Mona Lisa Smile

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Mona Lisa Smile
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMike Newell
Written by
Produced byElaine Goldsmith-Thomas
Deborah Schindler
Paul Schiff
CinematographyAnastas Michos
Edited byMick Audsley
Music byRachel Portman
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • December 19, 2003 (2003-12-19)
Running time
119 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$72.3 million[1]
Box office$141.3 million[2]

Mona Lisa Smile is a 2003 American drama film produced by Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures in association with Red Om Films Productions, directed by Mike Newell, written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, and starring Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The title is a reference to the Mona Lisa, the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, and to the song of the same name, originally performed by Nat King Cole, which was covered by Seal for the movie. Julia Roberts received a record $25 million for her performance, the highest ever earned by an actress at that time.[3]


In 1953, Katherine Ann Watson, a 30-year-old graduate student in the department of Art History at UCLA and Oakland State,[a] takes a position teaching History of Art at Wellesley College, a women's private liberal arts college in Massachusetts. At her first class, Katherine discovers that her students have already memorized the entire textbook and syllabus, so she uses the classes to introduce them to modern art and encourages discussion about topics such as what makes good art. Katherine comes to know her students and seeks to inspire them to achieve more than marriage to eligible young men.

Elizabeth "Betty" Warren is highly opinionated and outspokenly conservative. Betty does not understand why Katherine is not married and insists that a universal standard exists for good art. She writes editorials for the college paper, exposing campus nurse Amanda Armstrong as a supplier of contraception, which results in Amanda being fired; other editorials attack Katherine for advocating that women should seek a career instead of being wives and mothers as intended. Betty cannot wait to marry Spencer, as their parents have arranged, and expects the traditional exemptions from attending class as a married woman; however, Katherine insists she will be marked on merit and attendance, resulting in more conflict.

Constance "Connie" Baker begins dating Betty's cousin, Charlie, but Betty persuades her that he is only using her as his parents have arranged for him to marry Deb MacIntyre. Connie ends the relationship, believing Betty's story to be true. However, some weeks later, Connie and Charlie reconnect, with Charlie saying he has already decided for himself that he is not going to marry Deb, so Connie and he get back together.

Joan Brandwyn dreams of being a lawyer and has enrolled as prelaw, so Katherine encourages her to apply to Yale Law School. She is accepted, but decides not to go in order to play the traditional role of a housewife to her fiancée, Tom Donegal. She tells Katherine that choosing to be a wife and mother does not make her any less intelligent.

Giselle Levy has several lovers and liberal views about sex. She admires Katherine for encouraging the students to be independent. Giselle earns the enmity of Betty, whose conservative views conflict with her liberal ones.

Katherine declines a proposal from her California boyfriend because she does not love him enough and begins seeing the Wellesley Italian professor, Bill Dunbar. Bill is charming and full of stories about Europe and his heroic actions in Italy during the war. He has also had affairs with students (including Giselle), and Katherine makes him promise that it will never happen again. The relationship progresses, but when Katherine learns that Bill spent the entire war at the Army Languages Center on Long Island, she decides to break up with him because he is not trustworthy. Bill responds that Katherine did not come to Wellesley to help the students find their way, but to help them find her way.

Betty's marriage falls apart after Spencer has an affair, and she fails to find solace with her mother who orders her to return to her husband. She visits Giselle in her dorm room, who comforts her. In turn, Betty regrets how she's treated Katherine with her poor behavior. Eventually, influenced by Katherine, Betty files for divorce and looks for an apartment in Greenwich Village. When Mrs. Warren confronts Betty for what she has done, she reveals her frustration with her mother for not supporting her when she went to her for help. She mentions that the only person who cared about her enough to help her out was Katherine. Therefore, Betty reveals she is going to have a life of her own, has applied to Yale Law School, and will room with Giselle.

Katherine's course is highly popular, so the college invites her to return, but with certain conditions: she must follow the syllabus, submit lesson plans for approval, keep a strictly professional relationship with all faculty members, and not talk to the girls about anything other than classes. Katherine decides to leave to explore Europe. In the final scene, Betty dedicates her last editorial to Katherine, claiming that her teacher is "an extraordinary woman who lived by example and compelled us all to see the world through new eyes." As Katherine leaves in a taxi, all her students follow on their bicycles with Betty reaching to say goodbye until the taxi speeds away.



Mona Lisa Smile
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedDecember 19, 2003
GenreJazz • easy listening • big band
LabelSony Music
1."Mona Lisa"Seal3:11
2."You Belong to Me"Tori Amos3:03
3."Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered"Celine Dion2:45
4."The Heart of Every Girl"Elton John3:40
5."Santa Baby"Macy Gray3:29
6."Murder, He Says"Tori Amos3:22
7."Besame Mucho"Chris Isaak2:46
8."Secret Love"Mandy Moore3:40
9."What'll I Do"Alison Krauss3:12
10."Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"The Trevor Horn Orchestra2:26
11."Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)"The Trevor Horn Orchestra2:49
12."I'm Beginning to See the Light"Kelly Rowland1:47
13."I've Got the World on a String"Lisa Stansfield2:20
14."Smile"Barbra Streisand4:17
15."Suite"Rachel Portman5:33
Total length:48:27

Box office[edit]

In its first weekend, Mona Lisa Smile opened at #2 at the U.S. Box office, earning $11,528,498 USD behind The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.[4] By the end of its run, while the film had grossed $141,337,989 worldwide, its U.S. domestic gross did not meet its $65 million budget, falling short at $63,860,942.


Mona Lisa Smile received mixed to negative reviews from film critics. Critical aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a 34% "rotten" rating, based on 152 reviews, with an average rating of 4.93/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Though Mona Lisa Smile espouses the value of breaking barriers, the movie itself is predictable and safe."[5] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 45 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[6]

In a typical review, Claudia Puig of USA Today wrote, "it's Dead Poets Society as a chick flick, without the compelling drama and inspiration... even Roberts doesn't seem convinced. She gives a rather blah performance as if she's not fully committed to the role... Rather than being a fascinating exploration of a much more constrained time in our social history, the film simply feels anachronistic. The film deserves a solid 'C' for mediocrity and muted appeal."[7] Critic Elizabeth M. Tamny of the Chicago Reader shared this negative assessment, writing "Part of the problem is simply that Mona Lisa Smile is a Hollywood film, and Hollywood isn't good at depicting the life of the mind... And Julia Roberts is no help--you either like her or you don't, but either way it has little to do with talent. She's not so much an actor as a vessel for earnest reactions. The fact is... It's easier to take on an extremely black-and-white version of the most salient question from this film--can women bake their cake and eat it too?--than try to answer it in the present."[8]


Association Category Recipient Results
Critics Choice Movie Award Best Song Elton John
Bernie Taupin
Golden Globe Award Best Original Song Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Society Award Best Use of Previously Published or Recorded Music N/A Nominated
Satellite Award Best Original Song Elton John Nominated
Teen Choice Award Choice Movie Actress - Drama/Action-Adventure Julia Stiles Nominated
Choice Movie - Sleazbag Kirsten Dunst Nominated

Reaction from Wellesley and Wellesley alumnae[edit]

The college issued an official statement explaining their decision to allow the film to shoot on campus.[9]

In a message to Wellesley alumnae concerning the film, Wellesley College president Diana Chapman Walsh expressed regret about some of the reactions it generated, given that many alumnae from the 1950s felt that the film's portrayal of Wellesley was inaccurate.[10]


  1. ^ Lang, Brent (September 1, 2011). "'Inside the Revolution Library: Where Joe Roth Went Wrong". Retrieved July 10, 2017.
  2. ^ Mona Lisa Smile at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Goldman, Lea; Blakeley, Kiri (January 17, 2007). "The 20 Richest Women In Entertainment". Forbes. Retrieved July 15, 2011.
  4. ^ "Weekend Box Office December 19–21, 2003". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  5. ^ "Mona Lisa Smile (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  6. ^ "Mona Lisa Smile Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
  7. ^ Puig, Claudia (December 19, 2003). "Crooked 'Smile'". USA Today.
  8. ^ Tamny, Elizabeth M. (January 15, 2004). "History Versus Her Story". Chicago Reader. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  9. ^ "Wellesley College Is Among the Stars of the Film, "Mona Lisa Smile"". Wellesley College. December 3, 2003. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  10. ^ Walsh, Diana Chapman (January 9, 2004). "Message from the President to Wellesley College alumnae concerning the film, Mona Lisa Smile". Wellesley College. Archived from the original on August 12, 2007. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  1. ^ Oakland State is fictional.

External links[edit]