Julia Roberts as Katherine Watson
Kirsten Dunst as Betty Warren
Julia Stiles as Joan Brandwyn
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Giselle Levy
Ginnifer Goodwin as Constance Baker
Dominic West as Bill Dunbar
Juliet Stevenson as Amanda Armstrong
John Slattery as Paul Moore
Marcia Gay Harden as Nancy Abbey
Topher Grace as Tommy Donegal
Laura Allen as Susan Delacorte
Marian Seldes as President Jocelyn Carr
Terence Rigby as Dr. Edward Staunton
Donna Mitchell as Mrs. Warren
Jordan Bridges as Spencer Jones
To steal a quote “You’ve come a long way baby.” Mona Lisa Smile is set in Wellesley College during the 1953 – 1954 school term. Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) is the newest faculty member whose job it is to instruct her students in classical art. She quickly realizes that her students already know all of the paintings so she decides to help them cultivate their own appreciation for art, rather than accepting other people’s opinions.
The movie feels very much like Dead Poets Society set in a girls school. While both stories are driven by the main character, it is the acting of the students that carries the movie. Both Julia Stiles and Kirsten Dunst give good performances. Their lines often seem stiff and impersonal, but they are playing the stereotypical 1950’s soon-to-be-wife with a “clean the home, have an opinion later” attitude. Maggie Gyllenhaal does very well as a rebel in a white dress.
From the beginning it is pretty obvious where the story is going, but there are a couple of twists and turns along the way. The one big drawback is the romantic relationship that Roberts develops while at the school. It feels out of character for her and does little to forward the plot of the movie. The ending also has a little too much saccharine in it.
What this movie does, more than anything else, is to serve as a feminist reminder. Just 50 years ago, a woman was not expected to get anything more than a Mrs. (Marital relation ship) degree. While not denigrating men entirely it does not have any strong male characters.
Who should see this movie? Julia Roberts fans will like her – it is a strong role for her and she comes across well. There are a couple of romantic pairings in the movie, and some even work out, so if you are looking for a little romance you can find it here. The action is nonexistent, unless you count slipping on icy steps. Overall the movie is a good one, just a bit predictable with a few flaws.