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Movie Review

Movie: Mona Lisa Smile
Starring: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles
Released: 2003
Directed by: Mike Newell
Rated: PG-13

available at

Synopsis: In Mona Lisa Smile, the viewer gets a glimpse of the personal lives of a group of girls attending prestigious all-female Wellesley College and how they are shaped by mid-1950s society. The story is largely told through the eyes of Katherine Watson, the quiet but liberal art historian, who has just come from California to teach art history to the students. Impressed with the intellectual brilliance of the young women, she is disturbed by their lack of career aspirations and attempts to teach them to think on their own through discussions on art. In her quest to enlighten the students, Watson encounters the conservative views of the college administration and faculty as well as parents of the students.

Editor’s Review: Mona Lisa Smile is more about the mores of the east coast elite than art history as its name might imply. As with many real life situations, conclusions are not drawn with crystal clarity, tending to make the viewer feel a lack of closure. And all of the characters do not necessarily grow as a result of their experiences; instead, they merely become aware of their own limitations. Julia Roberts succeeds in playing the multidimensional role of the art history instructor by occasionally allowing the viewer to see the nonconforming liberal underneath the quiet and reserved historian. The supporting actresses who play the roles of the students shine in their performances with the exception of Julia Stiles who just can’t seem to sound natural in her elocution-smooth accent. The faithful recreation of the 1950s culture of this elite group, including fashions, home décor, TV programs, dances, and traditional activities of the college keep the viewer interested, as does a dynamic plot. The main value in Mona Lisa Smile lies in the understanding of a generation of women who were taught to believe that marriage and housewifery was the only meaningful option for women of their class and that it was guaranteed to provide fulfillment.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
   You can see Diana's own artwork by visiting her site at