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Mona Lisa Smile

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Mona Lisa Smile
from Film Forum, 12/23/03

Mainstream critics are not happy with the new film from director Mike Newell, whose versatile career has given them many reasons to cheer.

Newell, director of Into the West, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Donnie Brasco, to name a few, has several A-list actresses on board for this story about an amateur art history professor's rebellion against the establishment. Julia Roberts plays Katherine Watson, an instructor who calls into question the traditions of the respected all-female Wellesly College. In the 1950s, women who attended the college were encouraged to view their futures in terms of who they would marry. Watson wants to deflate the emphasis on marriage and motherhood and encourage her students (played by Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Julia Stiles, among others) to look at new possibilities.

Mainstream critics complain that the film's message is old news. Christian press critics are bothered by more than that.

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "The film's oversold thesis advances a toxic strain of feminism, which, rather than encouraging a deeper respect for the dignity of women, extols sexual liberation as an inalienable right, while painting marriage and motherhood as slave-state stumbling blocks on the yellow brick road to personal fulfillment."

Michael Medved (Crosswalk) writes, "Feminism has fallen on hard times, with so little relevance for today's young women that its advocates now insert their liberationist messages into a creaky, cliché-ridden melodrama about the repressive old 1950s. [This] preachy, pointless and pretentious piffle … may constitute a big new 2003 release but it carries the unpleasant odor of a musty museum piece."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "If we want to talk about wasted potential, we need look only at the number of female roles in this film that could have been explored with richness and depth. Instead we get a lot of superficial playacting and posing that I suppose is supposed to represent the style of the times. The filmmakers do eventually concede the point that being 'just a homemaker' is a valid choice but they stack their cards so strongly in favor of the feminist view that it comes off almost as being an afterthought rather than a revelation."

Movieguide's critic has listed it as the most "abhorrent" film playing in theatres right now. "Mona Lisa Smile is a liberal, feminist, Communist propaganda piece that uses easy targets and false stereotypes to favor sexual promiscuity and homosexuality and to attack anti-Communists, traditional moral values, marriage, traditional families, and conservatives."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "Aside from the biased and ridiculously one-sided commentary the movie makes about the '50s, the audience is left with shallow, incomplete characters and unresolved issues."


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