- Mona Lisa Smile
Mona Lisa Smile
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mike Newell Produced by Fredward Johanson Written by Lawrence Konner
Starring Julia Roberts
Marcia Gay Harden
Music by Rachel Portman Cinematography Anastas Michos Editing by Mick Audsley Studio Revolution Studios
Red Om Films Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures Release date(s) December 19, 2003 Running time 117 minutes Country United States Language English
Budget $65 million Box office $141,337,989
Mona Lisa Smile is a 2003 romantic drama film produced by Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures in association with Red Om Films Productions, directed by Mike Newell, written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, and starring Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Julia Stiles. The title is a reference to the Mona Lisa, the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, and the song of the same name, originally performed by Nat King Cole, which was covered by Seal for the movie. Julia Roberts received a record $25 million for her performance—the highest ever earned by an actress.
In 1953, Katherine Ann Watson (Julia Roberts), a 30-something grad student from California, takes a position teaching "History of Art" at Wellesley College, a conservative women's private liberal arts college in Massachusetts because she wants to make a difference and influence the next generation of women. At her first class, Katherine discovers that the girls have already memorized the entire syllabus from the textbook so she instead uses the classes to introduce them to Modern Art and encourages spirited classroom discussions about topics such as what makes good art and what the Mona Lisa's smile means. This brings her into conflict with the conservative College President who warns Katherine to stick to the syllabus if she wants to keep her job. Katherine comes to know many of the students in her class well and seeks to inspire them to seek more than marriage to eligible young men. Joan Brandwyn (Julia Stiles) dreamt of being a lawyer and enrolled as pre-law so Katherine encourages her to apply to Yale Law School, where she is accepted. Joan, however, elopes with her fiancé Tommy, is very happy and decides that what she wants most is to be a wife and mother after graduation and asks Katherine to respect her choice.
Betty Warren (Kirsten Dunst) is highly conservative like her mother, the head of the Alumnae Association. Betty doesn't understand why Katherine is not married and is strident in insisting that there is a universal standard for good art. She writes two editorials for the college paper, one which exposes the nurse for giving out contraception, which results in the nurse being fired, and one attacking Katherine for advocating that women should seek a career instead of just being wives and mothers as intended. Betty can't wait to marry Spencer as their parents have arranged and expects to get the traditional exemptions from attending class because she is married, but Katherine insists she will be marked on merit. Connie Baker (Ginnifer Goodwin) is dating Betty's cousin Charlie but Betty persuades her that he is only using her since it has been arranged by his parents for him to marry Deb, a girl more of his social standing, so Connie ends the relationship. However, Charlie had already decided for himself that that was not going to happen and they get back together. Giselle Levy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has liberal views and supports Katherine because she sees her as having chosen what she wants in her life. Giselle brazenly has affairs with a professor and a married man.
Katherine confides to the girls that she was engaged when young but that she and her fiance were separated by the war and the relationship fizzled out and that she has since had several affairs. Katherine declines a proposal from her boyfriend from California because she doesn't love him enough. She begins seeing the Wellesley Italian professor, Bill Dunbar (Dominic West) who is charming and full of stories about Europe and his heroic actions in Italy during the war. He has also had affairs with many students including Giselle, so Katherine makes him promise that that will never happen again. However, when she discovers that he actually spent the entire war at the Army Languages Center on Long Island she decides he is untrustworthy and breaks up with him. Dunbar responds that Katherine didn't come to Wellesley to help the students but to try to find herself.
Betty's marriage fails miserably. Spencer is soon spending as much time as possible away in New York on business and is also spotted by Giselle conducting an affair. Betty's mother tries to pressure Betty into not divorcing him at least for a while to avoid scandal for the families. Betty asks her mother if the Mona Lisa's smile means she is happy. At graduation Betty tells Katherine that she is divorcing Spencer and is going to share a flat in Greenwich Village with Giselle and is considering applying to Yale Law School, which impresses Katherine. Katherine's course was highly popular and there is large demand for places the next year so the college invites her to return. However, the President and Betty's mother impose conditions on Katherine that she must follow the syllabus, submit lesson plans for approval and not talk to the girls about anything other than classes. Katherine decides to leave and heads off to explore Europe for herself.
- Julia Roberts as Katherine Ann Watson
- Kirsten Dunst as Elizabeth "Betty" Warren (Jones)
- Julia Stiles as Joan Brandwyn (Donegal)
- Maggie Gyllenhaal as Giselle Levy
- Ginnifer Goodwin as Constance "Connie" Baker
- Dominic West as Bill Dunbar
- Juliet Stevenson as Amanda Armstrong
- Marcia Gay Harden as Nancy Abbey
- John Slattery as Paul Moore
- Marian Seldes as President Jocelyn Carr
- Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Charlie Stewart
- Topher Grace as Tommy Donegal
- Laura Allen as Susan Delacorte
- Emily Bauer as Art History Student
- Tori Amos as Wedding Singer
- Lisa Roberts Gillan as Miss Albini
- Emily Eby as Miss Robin
- Taylor Roberts as Louise
- Mary Pascoe as Mary S. Pascoe, a photographer
In its first opening weekend, Mona Lisa Smile opened at #2 at the U.S. Box office raking in $11,528,498 USD behind The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. By the end of its run, the film had grossed $141,337,989 worldwide from a $65 million budget.
Reaction from Wellesley alumnae
In a message to Wellesley alumnae concerning the film, Wellesley College president Diana Chapman Walsh expressed regret, given that many alumnae from the 1950s felt that the film's portrayal of Wellesley was inaccurate.
During the filming of Mona Lisa Smile, the Wellesley College campus broke into controversy surrounding the casting of student extras with use of the phrase "not too tan" in a casting call for current Wellesley students, sparking a fear that casting directors were using race to discriminate against potential extras. Producers claimed that they were merely stressing the importance of finding women that reflected the time period.
The controversy spilled over into the local media, and producers considered a compromise of hiring willing minority students to act as production assistants. The college issued a press release highlighting the realities of Wellesley in 1953 and defending their decision to allow the film to shoot on campus.
- ^ Mona Lisa Smile at Box Office Mojo
- ^ "The 20 Richest Women In Entertainment". Forbes. January 17, 2007. http://www.forbes.com/2007/01/17/richest-women-entertainment-tech-media-cz_lg_richwomen07_0118womenstars_slide_9.html. Retrieved July 15, 2011.
- ^ http://www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/chart/?yr=2003&wknd=51&p=.htm
- ^ http://www.wellesley.edu/PublicAffairs/Releases/2003/120303.html
- John Walker. (2009). "Mona Lisa Smile (2003) film review (2009)". artdesigncafe. Retrieved August 4, 2011.
- Julia Roberts interview for Mona Lisa Smile
- Mona Lisa Smile at the Internet Movie Database
- Mona Lisa Smile at the TCM Movie Database
- Mona Lisa Smile at AllRovi
- Mona Lisa Smile at Box Office Mojo
- Mona Lisa Smile at Rotten Tomatoes
- Mona Lisa Smile at Metacritic
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