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Mona Lisa Smile Film Essay Samples

Film Review Mona Lisa Smile Essay

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Mona Lisa Smile. Dir. by Mike Newell. Columbia Pictures, 2003.

In the movie, Mona Lisa Smile directed by Mike Newell, a new art history professor at Wellesley College teaches her female students alternatives to their seemingly preordained futures as wives and mothers. In this paper we will examine women's roles in the 1950's through Mona Lisa Smile and compare this film to actual experiences of Wellesley collage graduates. In 1953, a time when women's roles were rigidly defined, free-spirited, art history professor Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) begins teaching her dream job at Wellesley College. Wellesley is an all-female campus with a prestigious reputation for academic excellence, however, despite its name it is an…show more content…

She had the needed depth and dimension required for the role. Her seaming guarded attitude allowed her role to be tough enough to resist the girls and the faculty. I personally do not like Dunst (Betty) as an actress but that just made her manipulative "rich bitch" role even more believable. She is intent on making everyone around her feel unworthy and the viewer spends most of the movie hating her spoon-fed beliefs, until the end when the character earns empathy from the audience after she reveals her hardships with her husband and mother. Stiles' character Joan does the most growing in the film as she opens up to the possibility that she does not have to follow her sweetheart and could focus on her own education. Goodwyn's character Connie played an ‘add-drama' role to the movie. The viewer never disliked her but never really liked her. The most liberal of the girls is Giselle, played by Gyllenhaal, who plays the role of the campus slut. I am not sure the purpose of this women bashing role, it just made the movie "dirty". Giselle's affinity for sleeping with professors and married men is so revolting that not even in the end was her character salvaged, but she did play the part well.
The film's title, of course, is a reference to the Mona Lisa, the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci. One of the songs chosen was of the same name, originally performed by Nat King Cole, which was preformed

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A star-watcher's guilty pleasure, the movie rubs together three of Hollywood's brightest younger stars -- Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal, all playing Wellesley seniors -- and throws in an appealing newcomer, Ginnifer Goodwin. Topping off this marshmallow sundae are vivid turns by Marcia Gay Harden as the world's prissiest (and weepiest) teacher of elocution and poise, Juliet Stevenson as the discreetly lesbian school nurse with progressive ideas about birth control, and that empress of hauteur, Marian Seldes, playing the intransigently starchy college president. Dominic West, as a carnivorous-eyed professor of Italian who sleeps with his students, gives the movie its requisite shot of testosterone.

If Ms. Roberts is the undisputed star of ''Mona Lisa Smile,'' she graciously allows her acolytes plenty of opportunity to sparkle. Each plays a specific type. Ms. Dunst is Betty Warren, a vicious, overprivileged alpha girl and archtraditionalist hellbent on marriage to a louse, who attacks Katherine in the college newspaper.

Ms. Stiles is Joan Brandwyn, Betty's best friend and Katherine's protégée, who finds herself torn between marriage and Yale Law School. Ms. Gyllenhaal, who almost steals the movie, plays Giselle Levy, the wised-up class rebel who sleeps around and almost loses her bearings. Ms. Goodwin's character, Connie Baker, is the house wallflower (and chief victim of Betty's cruelty) who can't believe it when a boy asks her out. Although the four are stock figures, the talented actresses shade their stereotypes enough to lend them as much humanity as the formulaic screenplay (by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal) permits.

As the story follows Katherine through her first year at Wellesley, there are enough reversals to keep you guessing which characters will escape this upscale cuckoo's nest, although it's not very hard to figure out. Although Ms. Roberts is playing a grown-up academic, the aura she wafts is as ingenuous as ever. She is still the wide-eyed but feisty people's princess and angel of common sense whose high-beam smile can melt steel. Think of ''Mona Lisa Smile'' as ''The Best of Everything'' meets ''The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.'' Or better yet, ''Goodbye, Little Miss Chips.''

''Mona Lisa Smile'' is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) for strong language and mild sexual situations.


Directed by Mike Newell; written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal; director of photography, Anastas Michos; edited by Mick Audsley; music by Rachel Portman; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Deborah Schindler and Paul Schiff; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 100 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Julia Roberts (Katherine Watson), Kirsten Dunst (Betty Warren), Julia Stiles (Joan Brandwyn), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Giselle Levy), Dominic West (Bill Dunbar), Juliet Stevenson (Amanda Armstrong), Marcia Gay Harden (Nancy Abbey), Marian Seldes (Jocelyn Carr), Ginnifer Goodwin (Connie Baker), Topher Grace (Tommy Donegal) and John Slattery (Paul Moore).

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