Mona Lisa Smile. Dir. by Mike Newell. Columbia Pictures, 2003.
In the movie, Mona Lisa Smile directed by Mike Newell, a new art history professor at Wellesley College teaches her female students alternatives to their seemingly preordained futures as wives and mothers. In this paper we will examine women's roles in the 1950's through Mona Lisa Smile and compare this film to actual experiences of Wellesley collage graduates.
In 1953, a time when women's roles were rigidly defined, free-spirited, art history professor Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) begins teaching her dream job at Wellesley College. Wellesley is an all-female campus with a prestigious reputation for academic excellence, however, despite its name it is an environment where success is measured by 'how well' the students marry. Katherine, who recently left her husband (first strike against the non-conformist), taught liberal views that were out of place in this conservative 50s college. Encouraging these women to strive for a more open-minded future, Watson challenges the administration and inspires her students to look beyond the image of what is, and consider the possibilities of what could be. Besides butting heads with college administrators who object to progressive ideas, she also pushes the conservative students who firmly believe a woman's only role is to be a wife and mother.
The girls were more interested in nabbing a good husband than achieving scholastic and intellectual growth. The main characters were; catty but well brought-up Betty (Kirsten Dunst), potential graduate student Joan (Julia Stilies), insecure Connie (Ginnifer Goodwyn) and campus slut Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal). All of the women in the film were defined by their relationships with men, and their happiness was dependent on their success with the opposite sex. Julie Roberts (Katherine) was an excellent choice for the role of the liberal teacher. She had the needed depth and dimension required for the role. Her seaming guarded attitude allowed her role to be tough enough to resist the girls and the faculty. I personally do not like Dunst (Betty) as an actress but that just made her manipulative "rich bitch" role even more believable. She is intent on making everyone around her feel unworthy and the viewer spends most of the movie hating her spoon-fed beliefs, until the end when the character earns empathy from the audience after she reveals her hardships with her husband and mother. Stiles' character Joan does the most growing in the film as she opens up to the possibility that she does not have to follow her sweetheart and could focus on her own education. Goodwyn's character Connie played an add-drama' role to the movie. The viewer never disliked her but never really liked her. The most liberal of the girls is Giselle, played by Gyllenhaal, who plays the role of the campus slut. I am not sure the purpose of this women bashing role, it just made the movie "dirty". Giselle's affinity...