Buy This Movie
2003
Rated: PG-13 for brief nudity, adult language and adult themes.
Genre: Drama Romance
Directed By: Mike Newell
Running Time: 2:05
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 9/26/04
DVD Features:
Trailer
Art Forum
College Then and Now
What Women Wanted: 1953
Music Video - 1. Elton John "The Heart of Every Girl"
Text/Photo Galleries:
Filmographies
If you like this, try: Dead Poet's Society, To Sir with Love, Little Women, Lean on Me, Good Will Hunting, The Emperor's Club, School Ties, Dangerous Minds

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MONA LISA SMILE

 

As much as I did not like the film, despite its lacking in quality, I really enjoyed watching the young female actresses in here including Maggie Gyllenhaal who brings a great performance as the rebellious and sexually suggestive character, as well as Kirsten Dunst who is the perfect antagonist to Roberts' barely memorable lead character. Dunst is perfect to watch here, and she really does tend to pull off the elitist snob act to a tee coming off as the woman you like to hate, and then there's Stiles who is really good as the proper newlywed conflicted over whether she wants to spend her life as a married woman, or as a lawyer. Altogether, they have great chemistry and play off one another with some really good dialogue that makes their scenes and their performances the best in the story and a real highlight to watch.

Is this a coming of age movie? A tale about a woman overcoming the odds? No, underneath its star power and crisp filmmaking, it's a neo-feminism infomercial with the wrapping of a movie, a mere docudrama, if you will. And while it tries to be vintage, it really is just too modern and ahead of its time in its message of neo-feminism, twenty years too early. Impossible? No, far fetched? Yes, and then there are characters who mysteriously spout modern lingo like "Screw You" and the dialogue here never bears any similarity to what was spoken then.

The biggest fault here is its message of neo-feminism and girl power, not through its cast but through its deceitful message and the way its portrayed. Roberts' character is a feminist who takes a job at a college to teach art, the women students there are condescending, pompous and too cultured, but then she discovers they're not really learning anything but how to please their men through cooking and cleaning while marriage and conception are influenced heavily. So she decides to change the rules, okay, that's a good message how one person decides not to conform to lifestyles as people want to dictate and press upon others, but within the armor there's a chink and a major flaw.

Those who conform to the feminist ideals of the time are portrayed here as simple minded, or as an elitist snob simply posing to show up others, but why can't they be portrayed as smart people? I'm not saying women should have conformed to the ideals of cooking and cleaning and living a subservient lifestyle, but is it so hard to believe that there were smart women then who actually chose to live that lifestyle instead of starting a career? What about them? Should they be disregarded for the message depicted here? There's not one character that presents such a concept, so, in turn the movie contradicts the message it's trying to bring forth as it brings a message about women choosing their own life but judges those that choose the lifestyle they don't agree with.

Meanwhile, there are contrivances galore here that I've seen in "Good Will Hunting", "The Dead Poet's Society", "The Emperor's Club", and it goes on and on to the point where I pointed out everything that would happen before it did. Teacher (played by the grossly miscast Julia Roberts) who is fish out of water, comes to new school to teach, students are difficult, teacher is over its head, teacher adapts, teacher shows balls, students like teacher, teacher is different and gets difficulty, but alas they grow to like teacher and teacher likes students and they bond, but there's one student, I don't even have to continue because you probably know as much as I do, and the characters are so formulaic that it was so utterly atrocious, Dunst is the elitist who wants to conform into the married subservient lifestyle , Gyllenhaal is the erotic out of the ordinary rebel, Stiles is the intelligent woman whose torn between both the independent career life and marriage lifestyle while the men, well the men here aren't portrayed well. Call me sexist, but why do men have to be portrayed in such a negative light at the cost of empowering the females?

Couldn't both be portrayed in a well off fashion? The men here are cheaters, adulterers, demanding, neglectful, domineering, possessive, and philanderer's, big surprise, I don't think I remember a time anymore when both men and women were equal in a film. There's nothing wrong with a movie promoting girl power, but don't dress it as a movie about something, when really all it is is a preachy propagandist film about how men are so bad, and women are are better.

Everything here is so utterly predictable, every character turn, plot twist, character tribulation, and so on, that it seemed like the writers weren't even really trying to tell story, only to get their message across along with some obvious commentary regarding art that we really haven't already heard. They give us no new insight, no new facts, and nothing they say involving art bears any interest. The film is such a blatant paint by numbers feminism story that is so heavy in melodrama that by the climax, the writers don't really seem to be trying anymore to hide their facade, yet just lay on the feminist message very thick.

While it was very enjoyable to watch the young cast give some very good performances especially from Gyllenhaal who is really good here, this really is just a blatant neo-feminist infomercial in the guise of a drama, and it ultimately left me feeling tricked.

 

 

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