So, I curled up on the couch last night, armed with a bowl of popcorn and no particular expectations, and after browsing my to-watch queue, I decided to give the film “Mona Lisa Smile” a whirl. This flick, set in the post-war 1950s, turned out to be a bit like that one art class we’ve all had – you walk in thinking you know what’s going to happen, only to get your mind blown by a teacher who’s not about to stick to the syllabus.
Enter Julia Roberts, a.k.a. Katherine Watson, who is this free-spirited art history professor that walks into Wellesley College like a breath of fresh, feminist air. Her ideas are about as welcome as a bull in a china shop at first. Wellesley is this super conservative, all-women’s college where the scent of tradition hangs heavier than too much perfume in an elevator. But Katherine? She’s a professor with a fire in her belly to ignite minds rather than to simply polish up the next generation of perfect housewives. She’s not there to play by the rules; she’s there to rewrite them.
The movie has this killer cast, right? Julia Stiles, Kirsten Dunst, and Maggie Gyllenhaal are the students – each one a snapshot of the different paths women were navigating at the time. Julia Stiles’ Joan is the valedictorian caught between her law school dreams and the white-picket-fence life everyone expects her to lead. Kirsten Dunst’s Betty is the queen bee, ruling the roost and so dead set on getting that MRS degree she could probably teach the class herself. Then there’s Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Giselle, who is basically the poster girl for living her truth, no matter what society says.
Now, the film’s not without its clichés. You’ve got the rebellious teacher, the students who are diamonds in the rough, and the inevitable clashes with the stiff-necked administration. But somehow, “Mona Lisa Smile” does it with enough panache that you’re willing to let the déjà vu slide.
The heart of the film, for me, is in its little rebellions. It’s in the way Katherine encourages these women to think for themselves, to look beyond the ‘either/or’ of career versus marriage that’s been laid out for them like the only two options on the menu. The art here? It’s not just about what’s on the canvas. It’s about painting the canvas of your life with bold strokes and colors that you choose.
Sure, “Mona Lisa Smile” marches to the beat of a 1950s soundtrack, but the tune is all about challenging what society expects versus what these women aspire to be. It’s about finding your own voice in a choir that’s singing a tune written years ago. And yeah, it might get a bit predictable – there’s the renegade teacher, the administration that’s got their knickers in a twist, and the students with untapped potential – but it’s the kind of familiar that feels like comfort food for the soul.
But don’t let me paint this as just a feel-good movie. It doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff. There are moments that’ll make you want to throw something at the screen, frustrations that feel all too real even decades after the time period it portrays. And that’s part of its charm. It makes you care, makes you angry, and leaves you with a couple of those ‘what would I do?’ moments.
The movie does wrap up a little too neatly, tying up complex issues with a pretty Hollywood bow. But, hey, sometimes you just need that neat ending, right?
In short, “Mona Lisa Smile” is like that one art piece that might not be a masterpiece to everyone, but it definitely makes you stop and think. It’s worth a watch, not just for the nostalgia of seeing all these familiar faces from the early 2000s, but for the reminder of how every generation has its trailblazers – and its own version of a Mona Lisa smile.
So, have you seen “Mona Lisa Smile“? What did you think? Did it make you want to grab a paintbrush, or did it leave you wishing for a little less predictability? Drop your thoughts in the comments – I’m all ears!
Until tomorrow, keep on smiling like Mona Lisa,