Saturday, July 6, 2013

Day One Hundred and Eighty-seven - Mona Lisa Smile, "What is it with me and inspirational coming-of-age stories lately?"

I mean, honestly, you'd think I was depressed.


Wait, maybe that's it.

I'm down... so I've started picking feel good, rite of passage movies to assuage the guilt I have for spinning my wheels the last decade or so. I've soured my promise enough such that I feel the need to vicariously steal from the Gyllenhaal family... Jake, yesterday, and Maggie, today.

Mona Lisa Smile stars Julia Roberts as the main lead, but I feel the film is more about Maggie, Julia (Stiles) , Kirsten, and Ginnifer (who play Giselle, Joan, Betty, and Connie, respectively) than their mentor. All prime examples of the WASPy elite of Wellesly College, their prime concern at the start and for the majority of the movie is to land the right husband. Enter Julia (Roberts) as Katherine Ann Watson... a west coast liberal who wants to impart a little art appreciation and a fair amount of feminism.

The film definitely leads you by the nose when it comes to its politics and message. Be it the lesbian nurse who is dismissed for providing Giselle contraception or the snooty alumni board and their opinions on Picasso and Jackson Pollack, there are very clear lines between the "us" and "them" in this film.

I do like that, while many of the hypocrisies and prejudices of pretty much everyone are laid bare, for the most part there are no villains. Sure, Wellesley's president takes a hard line at the direction of the alumni board and Betty's mother is a relic of regressive matrimony, most folks in Mona Lisa Smile are examples of both flaws and facets.

I particularly was fond of Marcia Gay Harden's sedate charm instructor, even if her choices and preferences would make me want to harm myself were they mine... and the same goes for Betty.

Playing a spiteful, elitist... well, bitch, for lack of a better term, for the majority of the film, you cannot help but feel for her as she suffers her own trials and tribulations living out a loveless marriage.

Much props to both Kirsten Dunst for being the on-again/off-again foil for the film and Maggie Gyllenhaal for playing the supportive friend to the very end. That third act blowup between the two was a simple, yet profound, display of pent up rage on both their parts... so much so that I was expecting Giselle to throw everything in Betty's face. When that didn't happen, I wanted to cry in frustration. When I saw what did, I needed to sob all the same.

Yes, the film is heavy-handed with its message and, yes, it's a bit too on the nose all throughout, but it's still pretty decent.

It just lacks the emotional oomph, in much a similar fashion as yesterday's October Sky, that would've made it great. Especially in that last scene where the girls chase after their mentor's departing cab on bicycles, in tears that their favorite teacher is leaving them.

Neither of these films were anywhere close to Dead Poets Society (at least, as I recall, as it's been probably twenty years since I saw that one)... but they give it the old college try. A for effort, C for execution.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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