Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Mona Lisa Smile

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

MONA LISA SMILE

5/10

USA 2003 : Mike NEWELL : 119 mins

Massachusetts, 1953. A stuffy all-female college is shaken up by the arrival of free-spirited Californian history-of-art lecturer Katharine Watson (Julia Roberts). Most of her pupils love Katharines modern methods, but it isn’t long before she starts to meet trouble from some of the schools more old-fashioned elements. Despite all this, she still finds time to fit in a forbidden romance with a hunky colleague Bill (Dominic West)…

After hitting the box-office jackpot with with Four Weddings and a Funeral, veteran British director Newell has specialised in films that examine closed American communities. Having explored the Mafia in Donnie Brasco and air-traffic controllers in Pushing Tin, he now turns back the clock to trace the early stirrings of feminism.

Supposedly inspired by Hillary Clintons college years, Mona Lisa Smile is watchable enough as entertainment, but doesn’t deal very deeply with the issues it tries to raise… and its ironic that a film about female empowerment should be directed, written, produced, edited and shot by men. Roberts, meanwhile, in her first proper lead role since Erin Brockovich, is clearly back in Oscar-hunt mode. But she’s repeatedly upstaged by her young co-stars especially Maggie Gyllenhaal, proving that her breakthrough in Secretary was anything but a fluke.

1st March, 2004
(seen 23rd January : Cineworld, Milton Keynes CinemaDays event)

by Neil Young

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Buy Mona Lisa Smile on DVD