starring Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal
screenplay by Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal
directed by Mike Newell
by Walter Chaw Julia Roberts films, by and large, seem to hate men. In a real way, her pictures are as objectionable as those films regularly pilloried for objectifying women (and those like the unforgivable Love Actually that somehow slip under the radar for doing the same), functioning as something of a reactionary version of feminism that seeks to denigrate the opposite gender as the sole means toward gender equality. The big secret about films like Mona Lisa Smile is that they're every bit the big-budget Hollywood spectacle film derided by a goodly portion of its audience as puerile, predictable, and thematically reprehensible. Because Mona Lisa Smile is so much the child of formula, it's difficult to muster much energy in condemning the film by itself--by itself, after all, it's handsomely mounted and well-performed. But as a symptom of that facile societal desire for superficial uplifts and comforting negative stereotypes, the smoothness of the coating for this bitter pill deserves some measure of profound distaste.