I went to see Mona Lisa Smile last night, and it was an exasperating experience at best. I’d sum it up as a film about feminism for anti-feminists. It could have been a great film, but I can see Hollywood studio execs (never the most progressive of men) being downright scared about making an honest film about the white, middle/upper-class female experience in a 1950s all-girls college. The entire film stopped short of making any real statements. The scene where a frustrated Katherine Watson (Roberts) shows her art class slides of 50s adverts teaching them to be good little housewives and nothing else, she gets furious and shouts “What are these telling us? WHAT?!” [Pause] “I don’t know.” [Walks out]. Well, it’d really have helped if she had known. And that sums the film up, really: every time it comes close to saying something real, it backs down. Julia Stiles’ character, Joan, is a brilliant, rich, beautiful young woman. She applies to Yale Law School, and is accepted. But her boyfriend (who is kind of a dick) is offered a place at Penn State, so obviously Joan can’t go to Yale. She is nonplussed. Shortly after, they elope one weekend and marry. Katherine is (not surprisingly) shocked and a little disappointed. So Stiles’ character launches into a defence of the married woman which manages to make Katherine look like the narrow-minded snob who thinks that being a housewife is unfulfilling and boring (um, it is if your other options included Yale Law, darlin’). I find it bizarre that a film about, let’s face it, feminism, does not once mention the f-word, or the word “oppression” or the word “patriarchy”. Feminism was a word first used at the turn of the century, so it’s not like no one would have heard of it. There were only two moments in this film that seemed real and not sanitised: the first, where Betty (Kirsten Dunst) is screaming at Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) for sleeping around, and Giselle comes towards Betty. You think she’s going to punch her (cat fights are good for ratings!) but instead she envelopes her in a hug (Betty’s husband is a slag and she is projecting her anger/hurt onto Giselle). The second is when Katherine and the teacher she’s seeing are at Betty’s wedding and notice other teachers discussing them. Katherine’s boyf whispers “Are your ears burning?” and Roberts wryly replies “When you’re on a stake the flames start at your feet” (or something), a reference to which-burning. And that, folks, is as subversive as it gets.
Basically the message of the film can be summed up as: In the 1950s it was widely assumed that women went to college to meet a husband. How awful! But some of them did and they were happy and so let’s not be mean to them.
Nice dresses and make-up, tho.
PS Ginnifer Goodwin is hottt. And she’s supposed to be the ugly one!