Film No 29 (2015) : Mona Lisa Smile

Mona Lisa SmileI can’t believe it has taken me so long to get around to seeing this film, which was released in 2013. It is just my kind of movie. Reminiscent of ‘Dead Poets Society‘, it features a strong-minded young art teacher who takes up a position at a women’s liberal arts college. It didn’t get great reviews and the majority of its award nominations were for ‘Best Original Song’! Talk about damned by faint praise.

Katherine Ann Watson (Julia Roberts) realises very early on that her students are capable and also, for the most part, privileged. Despite their potential to gain places at prestigious universities and pursue professional careers, these young women have their sights set firmly on one prize. Marriage. Finding the right chap, settling down and supporting him in his career, is the path for which Joan, Betty et al are destined. Frustrated, Katherine does her best to inspire the students in her care to think for themselves, defy convention and strike out for themselves. Through the medium of art, she encourages independence thought. Of course, her methods bring her into conflict with the powers-that-be at Wellesley.

The film features some engaging performances, not only from Roberts but also Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Juliet Stevenson and Dominic West. I liked it, mainly because Katherine Ann Watson leads by example; her own love life is unconventional for the 1950s in which the film is set. What this reminded me is that most of the time talking about principles and ideals is unlikely to change hearts and minds – you can really only achieve that by doing stuff. It’s all very well saying you are a feminist, but change will only be effected by doing things differently, not by standing on our soap-boxes. I would definitely watch this film with an impressionable young woman.

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