That Smile

January 14, 2004 | 8 comments
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Have you seen “The Mona Lisa Smile?” I loved it. Not only was it at my beloved Alma Mater, the most beautiful campus in the U.S., but showed it when I was there. Long, long ago. Not everyone loved the film. My classmates are planning to sue the producers for devaluing their education. But it was accurate in spirit if not in detail.

The plot turned on the teaching of modern art. A phony issue. We were up to date on art and everything else. Intellectually, the college was strong and brave. In my freshman year, we read “The Communist Manifesto” in three classes at the height of the McCarthy era. Our professors were learned and dedicated, if desicated, married to their disciplines.

Socially, the film was fairly accurate, although made to look pretty silly. We never had classes on poise or setting the table, but we had weekly tea and wore skirts for dinner. Hours for male guests were strictly limited. It was the same at Harvard and everywhere else. The faculty did not tell us to get married; our president demanded that we do something significant, but marriage was certainly in the air. Few students had career plans. I was married after my junior year. I graduated with my class, but could not imagine that anyone would ever hire me or admit me to graduate school.

The strangest aspect of the film was the heroine. There was no one then like her. No glamourous, adventurous, free-wheeling doctoral students. The jobs for beauties were as airline stewardesses and guides at the UN, certainly not in academics. Roberts was a time traveler. The film is an example of how hard it is to get it right, particularly if you want to tell a story as well as project an ambience. I give this one a B+. I still loved it.

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8 Responses to That Smile

  1. Nate Oman on January 14, 2004 at 9:14 am

    Dumb lawyer’s question: What is the theory of the proposed law suit agaist the producer? Some kind of libel? It sounds like a very, very silly law suit to me…

  2. Kristine on January 14, 2004 at 2:10 pm

    Claudia, I haven’t seen the film yet, but even from the trailers the Julia Roberts character just looks wrong.
    I’m interested in your observation that the college was intellectually strong and brave at the same time as it was tradition-bound in its views of women’s roles and possibilities. It reminds me of an interview/book review? (nobody’s sleeping at our house these days–it all runs together!) I heard recently about how the janitorial staff was treated at the Supreme Court during the time of major foment around civil rights laws. How is it that we humans are so good at compartmentalizing? How can we get less good at it?

  3. Nathan on January 14, 2004 at 2:15 pm

    I have not seen the movie, but my wife saw it and found the social commentary a bit heavy handed. For myself, I have a hard time sitting through any any movie with Julia Roberts in it. The mouth is just TOO BIG! I always end up thinking of one of those freaky deep sea fish that consists entirely of mouth.

  4. Kristine on January 14, 2004 at 2:28 pm

    Same problem, but I just end up thinking about horses.

  5. Kristine on January 14, 2004 at 2:28 pm

    Same problem, but I just end up thinking about horses.

  6. Kristine on January 14, 2004 at 2:29 pm

    Same problem, but I just end up thinking about horses.

  7. Kristine on January 14, 2004 at 2:30 pm

    OK, I don’t think about horses that much–just some weird computer spaz. Sorry everyone.

  8. cooper on January 14, 2004 at 9:31 pm

    I saw it and found it a bit contrived. When are they going to begin making real movies about women of strength and value without having to stand on a soapbox for women’s rights??? I did like Julia Stiles though.

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