June 9, 2006

Why I hated "Mona Lisa Smile"

Here's a movie review I did for Netflix; it has been at the top of their list for a while, because a whopping 509 people found it helpful. Yay! Perhaps my write-up will help people realize just how inaccurate the film really is.
"Mona Lisa Smile” is a Hollywood fantasy: a free-spirited Californian (with only a master’s degree) teaches uptight Easterners about life and art. Problem is, everything in this movie, from the premise down to the details is completely false, and I should know, because my mother and I are Wellesley College alumnae (’54 and ’89). It makes no sense that the same place that produced Madeleine Albright ’59, Diane Sawyer ’67, and Hillary Clinton ’69 is a mere finishing school, one that supposedly discouraged its students from attending graduate school, and would prefer they stayed home and vacuumed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Society did pressure women to marry, but Wellesley was an oasis of support for smart, ambitious women who wanted to combine marriage and a career. You were required to take 20 hours a semester, which tended to discourage women who weren’t serious about academics. The idea that a prestigious college would teach a moronic course in “Speech, Elocution and Poise” or setting a table is ridiculous! Well-bred young ladies already knew these things. Other errors and anachronisms: professors addressed students as “Miss Jones,” not by their first names; students would never have been disrespectful to professors, and they mostly dressed down in jeans and plaid shirts. It’s also preposterous to imagine that any student would bother memorizing the entire textbook before the first day of class. What bothers me the most, though, is the idea that Wellesley would object to teaching modern art in 1953, when in fact, they began back in 1926, the first college in the nation to do so! The professor was none other than Alfred H. Barr, Jr., founder of NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. The film’s writers had access to the school’s archives, but apparently didn’t learn anything from them, instead using their preconceived notions about “cool Californians” and “rigid Bostonians” to make a predictable movie full of stock characters and clich├ęd situations.

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