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MONA LISA SMILE

The time is the early 50's, a time when right-wing Senator Joseph McCarthy is riding high and sinister, and a certain pretty woman gets a gig teaching art history at snooty Wellesley College.

CAST: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Dominic West, Juliet Stevenson, Marcia Gay Harden, John Slattery, Marian Seldes, Terence Rigby, Topher Grace, Jordan Bridges, Ebon Moss-Bachrach

DIRECTOR: Mike Newell


"‘Irritating’ doesn't begin to describe Julia Roberts as Katherine, an art-history prof who arrives at Wellesley in 1953. She's in her prime and eager to teach Stepford girls to be fem-bots…Smirky Katherine seems to know every step in the women's movement from the last fifty years…That Mike Newell (‘Donnie Brasco,’ ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’) directed this insulting swill is beyond depressing. Women of the Fifties, rise up in protest." --Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

 



"What can one say about a movie that celebrates nonconformity by conforming to every Hollywood cliche in the book? Why must all movies about favorite teachers strike the same elegiac chord en route to the hero's coronation? The movie's cartoon notions of the '50s and snooty Easterners say more about Hollywood cluelessness than about the period the film condescends to…Newell, no hack, tries not to milk the cliches shamelessly, and that may be the movie's final undoing. Lacking the courage of its own vulgarity, "Mona Lisa Smile" is as tepid as old bathwater." --David Ansen, Newsweek

"‘Mona Lisa Smile’ is a thesis movie. It’s saying that women in the early fifties suffered the brunt of the era’s crushing conformity. But that sameness is vastly oversold here…Everything about this movie seems off-key, starting with its title. Mona Lisa is likened to Katherine, but was there ever an actress with a less enigmatic smile than Julia Roberts?" --Peter Rainer, New York Magazine

"‘Mona Lisa Smile’ preaches disruptive female self-empowerment out of one side of its mouth while out of the other it invokes the dream of being swept up, up and away by Prince Charming…Mr. Newell is master of the feel-good ensemble piece whose shallowness is partly masked by the expertise of a high-toned cast… 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." --Stephen Holden, The New York Times

"'Mona Lisa Smile' is more likely to evoke a grimace than a grin. It's ‘Dead Poets Society’ as a chick flick, without the compelling drama and inspiration of Peter Weir's 1989 film. The dedicated professor role — Robin Williams in ‘Dead Poets’— is played less convincingly by Julia Roberts. And the college students are not nearly as interesting or likable as 'Dead Poets'' prep-schoolers." --Claudia Puig, USA Today

"The movie is more observant and thoughtful than we expect. It doesn't just grind out the formula, but seems more like the record of an actual school year than about the needs of the plot. In the delicate dance of audience identification, we get to be both the teacher and her students -- to imagine ourselves as a free spirit in a closed system, and as a student whose life is forever changed by her…Julia Roberts is above all an actress with a winning way; we like her, feel protective toward her, want her to prevail. In ‘Mona Lisa Smile,’ she is the conduit for the plot, which flows through her character…the characters involve us, we sympathize with their dreams and despair of their matrimonial tunnel vision, and at the end we are relieved that we listened to Miss Watson and became the wonderful people who we are today." --Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

"It’s a gimmick movie in which Roberts’ Katherine Watson tries, mostly in vain, to free her students’ minds from the cobwebbed conservatism advocated by the college authorities, who wish that Watson would just stick to the curriculum. There may be an ounce of feminist truth in that scenario, but what makes the movie seem crass is its refusal to present (or even to see) more than one side of any given issue." --Scott Foundas, LA Weekly

"This Julia Roberts movie about a progressive art teacher who shakes things up at a Seven Sisters college during the stodgy '50s is about as forward-thinking as girdles…this is not a feminist movie. It even feels at times like a step back, partly because the cliches are so tired…A movie about a maverick ought to be a little daring as well, and 'Mona Lisa Smile' is as safe and predictable as chintz." --Jami Bernard, The New York Daily News

"‘Mona Lisa Smile’ isn't boring, but it is sanctimonious, relentlessly predictable and willfully ignorant of the period it's set in. Worse, Julia Roberts is painfully unbelievable as a free-thinking art history prof from California who liberates a class of WASPy young women at an elite New England college in the early '50s…for a film that brims with smugness at its espousal of non-conformity, ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ could hardly be more conventional in its style and its message." --Jonathan Foreman, The New York Post

"In contrast to her fellow actors, Roberts is triumphantly, albeit inevitably, her screen self: clumsy and righteous. If her character's crusade to save her students from marriage is certainly her most baffling yet, it's also her most entertaining. By the film's tear-jerking conclusion, it's clear that Watson, like Roberts, must be true to who she is." --Wesley Morris, Boston Globe