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MONA LISA SMILE

Review by Chastity Campbell

Starring: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marcia Gay Harden, Julia Stiles
Director: Mike Newell
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio: Columbia Tri-Star
Features: See Review
Length:  120 Minutes
Release Date: March 9, 2004

“When your courses are set, and a real dreamboat you’ve met, have a real cigarette, have a Camel!”

Film ***

For those of you out there who are the super liberal, burn your bra kind of gal that ran barefoot at Woodstock in 1969, this DVD may not be for you!  I know after watching, I said a serious thank you to women like my mother who have made the world a more equal place.  I didn’t say a better place, just more equal, and easier to live with from a woman’s perspective!

Seriously though, this film from everything I can gather is apparently a very good representation of the way things were in the 1950’s.  Aside from that, this film has a very good story, and wonderful actresses, and come on, who could ask for more from a movie?

Julia Roberts stars as Katherine Watson, an Art History teacher who has always had the dream of teaching at the exclusive girls’ school Wellesley.   She gets her wish, but gets more than she bargained in her students, the school, and everyone else’s expectations.

Throughout the course of her first year teaching, Katherine goes through more ups and downs than a yo-yo.   She’s constantly being bombarded with criticism for her teaching methods, her love life, and her beliefs in general.

Along the way she makes some friends, some enemies, and earns respect from one of the most unexpected places.

Julia Roberts is Julia Roberts, and that should be enough said!  However, I will say that this lady has the ability to draw you into any character she’s portraying by simply smiling.  I guess that’s why it was so fitting for her to have the title role in a film called Mona Lisa Smile. 

The supporting cast, who in my opinion took their characters and created starring roles for themselves, were phenomenal. 

Julia Stiles, whom I simply adore, was absolutely adorable as the strong minded, Joan.  I was really rooting for her character all the way through the film.

Kirsten Dunst’s character Betty, whose family by the way is friends with the actual Joneses that the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” was created for, was my second favorite character out of the girls in this film.  Dunst is a wonderful actress, there is no doubt, but she truly showed she can swing the emotional ball and chain quite well as she transformed from a raving bitch to a subdued princess in the blink of an eye. 

My absolute favorite and the biggest surprise from my perspective was Maggie Gyllenhaal.  I really want to see more from this lady because she’s not only beautiful and talented, she has this charisma about her that really grabs you and drags you along for the ride whether you want to go or not.   Her character Giselle was a hoot to watch, and easy to enjoy.  I really think this lady has a lot of Hollywood out in front of her and the best has yet to come.

I won’t go all philosophical on you and turn this review into a bash session as to how crazy things have become since the 1950’s, but some really cool statistics were listed in one of the featurettes that made me sit up and take notice.  

Did you know, that in 1953 only 7% of women who graduated college received law degrees?   This number is extremely low in comparison to the 47% that receive law degrees now.

The average age an American woman got married, in 1953 was 21, now it’s 28.  Not that big of a difference, but being 29, I tried to think where my head was at when I was 21 and it terrified me!

Freshmen college women who claim they are virgins, in 1953 85% of girls said they were still virgins.  Now that number is slightly lower…okay, a lot lower at 22%.  COME ON LADIES!!!!

There were plenty more statistics and a lot of fun and entertainment on this disc, but if you want to know the whole story, grab your copy on DVD and let it spin your brain. 

Video ***

This DVD contained some of the best camera and lighting work I’ve seen in a while.  Add to that colors that were vibrant and warm, offering the viewer a comfortable visual experience reminiscent of the 50’s themselves.  

There was hardly any dirt or graininess to the print and the 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer lost nothing in the process from big screen to TV screen.  

Audio ***

Credit must be given to the people responsible for this DVD’s audio.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround was very crisp, clear, and free from problems.  The audio levels remained constant throughout, which is a pleasant change from some of my other experiences recently to say the least.   The dialogue and music beds blended fluidly and without either one overpowering the other.  I really enjoyed listening to this DVD as much as watching it.

Features ***

Finally, a DVD with features you can sink your eyes into!  This one is loaded folks, so sit back, relax, and enjoy!

The three main featurettes, “ Art Forum’, “College Then And Now”, and “What Women Wanted In 1953” are totally loaded with information.  The cast did a wonderful job in their interviews, and their answers will give you a better understanding of what women think in 2004 by comparison to the 1950’s. 

There are ten movie trailers included for you to view.  Some are old, some are new, and some have yet to be released in theatres, so give them the once-over.

“The Heart Of Every Girl,” music video by Elton John is included.  Also, filmographies for all of the main actresses and crew are included so you can learn more about the amazing people who gave this movie life.

French and English language options are available as well as French and English subtitles.  Interactive menus, and scene selection will aid in putting a Mona Lisa style smile on your face!

Summary:

If Mona Lisa were around now, I’m sure we could easily find out what really put that smirk on her face.  But alas, since she’s not, we have Julia Roberts to keep us entertained.  This DVD contains enough fun and extras to make anyone smile.