Mona Lisa Smile (5/10)
2003 by Tony Medley
My first day in law
school at the University of Virginia saw me in Contracts Professor
Richard Speidel’s class. It was the start of Speidel’s second year
teaching, so he was only a few years older than my classmates and me.
Despite that, he scared the hell out of all of us. None of us would have
considered challenging him on anything. Most of us slinked down low in
our seats, praying he wouldn’t call on us and humiliate us.
Watson (Julia Roberts) starts her first day of teaching at Wellesley in
1953, her class scares the hell out of her. Never will you see a
smarmier bunch of women, who attack Watson and put her down. Thus starts
Mona Lisa Smile; a movie that surprised me because it didn’t go
where it looked like it was going.
include Betty Warren (Kirsten Dunst), who gets married and out bitches
the bitchiest woman you can imagine, Joan Brandwyn (Julia Styles), a
beautiful blond who wants to get married and have a family when Watson
thinks she should go to Yale Law School, and Connie Baker (Ginnifer
Goodwin), a shy wallflower.
When one considers
that screenwriters Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal were inspired to
write this after reading an article about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s
years at Wellesley College, it’s understandable that it is full of
feminist ideas. There aren’t a lot of men in the film, but the ones
that do appear are hardly admirable. And all mothers are pictured as
unsympathetic, selfish monsters, as are the school administrators.
I’m turned off by
a film that contains normal people conversing in sharp, snappy dialogue
hardly heard anywhere outside of the Algonquin Round Table, and that’s
what you hear during the first part of this film. These college ladies
engage in such clever repartee they’d make Dorothy Parker drool.
In 1953 Katherine is
a modern day feminist before her time where, according to this film,
Wellesley’s sole purpose in life was to train young women to be good
wives and mothers. This doesn’t sit well with Katherine who thinks
women should be trained to go out into the world to do whatever they
want to do. However, to give the writers credit, Katherine is finally
shown that, even though she influenced her students, they made up their
own minds. There’s a relatively even-handed approach in the end that
allows non-feminists to leave the theater somewhat mollified.
The best part of
this film for me, and the most true to life, was the story of Connie
Baker and the way she was interpreted by newcomer Ginnifer Goodwin.
Connie is not as beautiful and desirable as her friends and she suffers
for it. She’s maligned by the bitchy Betty Warren. Her story is
touching and extremely well done.
That said, this is
an unrealistic, quintessential chick flick with a feminist slant. If
you’re a feminist chick, you should love it.
December 17, 2003