Mona Lisa Smile: Wikis


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Mona Lisa Smile
Directed by Mike Newell
Produced by Joe Roth
Written by Lawrence Konner
Mark Rosenthal
Starring Julia Roberts
Kirsten Dunst
Julia Stiles
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Ginnifer Goodwin
Dominic West
Juliet Stevenson
Marcia Gay Harden
Editing by Mick Audsley
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) December 19, 2003
Running time 117 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $65,000,000
Gross revenue $141,337,989

Mona Lisa Smile is a 2003 American film that was produced by Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures, directed by Mike Newell, written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, and starring Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Julia Stiles. The title is a reference to the Mona Lisa, the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, and the song of the same name, originally performed by Nat King Cole, which was covered by Seal for the movie. The film is a loose adaptation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a novel by Muriel Spark, and the title also references that text.



Mona Lisa Smile tells the story of Katherine Ann Watson (played by Julia Roberts), a teacher who studied at UCLA graduate school who leaves her boyfriend behind in Los Angeles, to teach at Wellesley College, a conservative women's private liberal arts college in Massachusetts, United States in 1953.

Watson encourages her students to study to become career professionals. She wants her students to lead the world and not just to live as the wife of somebody. She uses modern art to suggest that they need not conform to female stereotype, even introducing the students to the work of Jackson Pollock. She feels that women can do more than solely adopt the roles of wives and mothers.

Watson's work is contrary to methods deemed acceptable by the school's directors, conservative women who believe firmly that Watson should not use her class to express her points of views or befriend students, and should stick only to teaching art. Watson is warned that she could lose her job.

Undaunted, Watson becomes more forceful in her speeches about feminism. She believes she needs to instill a spirit of change among her students.

Watson eventually breaks things off with her boyfriend, Paul Moore (John Slattery), after a disastrous wedding proposal. She starts a relationship with Italian teacher Bill Dunbar (Dominic West). Although the relationship is frowned upon by the faculty, the two continue seeing each other. However, Watson ends the relationship after finding out that Dunbar lied about his military service.

The film also focuses on the lives of various students of Watson's, chief among them: Elizabeth "Betty" Warren (Jones) (Kirsten Dunst), a rich girl with a conservative, domineering mother (who, as head of the Alumni Association, exerts significant influence) who marries a man who is unfaithful to her, and who also clashes repeatedly with Watson; Constance "Connie" Baker (Ginnifer Goodwin) has insecurities about her body while searching for a boyfriend; Giselle Levy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), one of the few Jewish students at Wellesley at the time, who has an affair with Bill Dunbar, but who is also one of the first students to admire Watson; and Joan Brandwyn (Donegal) (Julia Stiles), who is initially conflicted about whether to pursue law school after graduation or become a housewife to Tommy Donegal (Topher Grace).

Although many are initially put off by Watson's style, as the film progresses, more students begin to admire her, including Betty, despite being her most vehement critic.

Watson chooses to leave after one year, but as she is leaving the campus for the last time, her students follow her car, to show their affection. The scene is narrated by Betty who dedicates her last editorial to Watson, explicitly stating that Watson is "an extraordinary woman" and an individual who "seeks truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image."


Reaction from Wellesley alumnae

In a message to Wellesley alumnae concerning the film, Wellesley College president Diana Chapman Walsh expressed regret, given that many alumnae from the 1950s felt that the film's portrayal of Wellesley was inaccurate.

Campus controversy

During the filming of Mona Lisa Smile, the Wellesley College campus broke into controversy surrounding the casting of student extras. The use of the phrase "not too tan" in a casting call for current Wellesley students sparked a fear that Casting Directors were using race to discriminate against potential extras. Producers claimed that they were merely stressing the importance of finding women that had the "look of 1953", but later their response to the growing concern was that the film could not reflect the current Wellesley demographic, and had to be "accurate" to the period.

Students presented their concerns to president Diana Chapman Walsh to no avail, and began a campus-wide guerrilla campaign entitled "Too Tan for Mona Lisa Smile", with a photo roster of African-American students denied the chance to participate in the film as student extras.

Student Multicultural Affairs Coordinator Jenna O. Bond-Louden claimed that the film overrepresented the Asian student population, which was believed to be approximately three in 1953 (as the "Asian" ethnic group is not listed in the college's records), and underrepresented African-Americans: only one of the about 200 extras in the film was African-American (in reality there were 12 African-American students enrolled in a total student population of 1685, so with 200 extras approximately 1.4 of them should have been African-American).

The controversy spilled over into the local media, and producers considered a compromise of hiring willing minority students to act as production assistants. The college released a press statement highlighting the realities of Wellesley in 1953, and defending their decision to allow the film to shoot on campus. When the film's lead cast was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, a select group of African-American students were allowed to attend the show's taping, including the "Too Tan for Mona Lisa Smile" leader.

Students also protested the lack of concern by the studio for their ability to attend classes as normal with the blocking of pathways, streets, and buildings during the eight days of shooting the film. Producers initially tried to adhere to the class schedule by not shooting in open areas immediately before and after classes, but that lasted only a short while. Student extras frustrated professors by missing class and important exams, and the entire campus began to speak out against the film's presence.

Places and their references

  • The classroom in which Julia Roberts teaches is in fact a Chemistry classroom in Columbia University's Havemeyer Hall, Havemeyer 309.
  • The office of Professor Bill Dunbar (played by actor Dominic West) is actually the Wellesley College quad; a grouping of four dormitories on the campus.
  • Some of the exteriors for Wellesley College and Harvard were, in fact, shot in the same courtyard at Yale's Silliman College.
  • The train station scene was shot at the Glen Ridge New Jersey Transit Station in Glen Ridge, New Jersey near Newark.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

These are quotes from the film Mona Lisa Smile starring Julia Roberts and Kirsten Dunst.


Katherine Watson

  • I thought that I was headed to a place that would turn out tomorrow's leaders, not their wives.
  • Look beyond the paint. Let us try to open our minds to a new idea.
  • I don't think I can go a year without a hot plate.
  • This is all they're really doing here, isn't it? They're just biding time until SOMEBODY proposes!
  • A girdle to set you free. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN!

Betty Warren

  • [in her last editorial] Not all who wander are aimless. Especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image.
  • Dear Betty, I came to Wellesley because I wanted to make a difference. But to change for others is to lie to yourself. My teacher, Katherine Watson, lived by her own definition and would not compromise that, not even for Wellesley. I dedicate this, my last editorial, to an extraordinary woman, who lived by example and compelled us all to see the world through new eyes. By the time you read this, she'll be sailing to Europe, where I know she'll find new walls to break down, and new ideas to replace them with.
  • I've heard her called a quitter for leaving and aimless wanderer. But not all who wander are aimless, especially those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image. I'll never forget you.
  • [in her second editorial] Wellesley girls who are married have become quite adept at balancing their obligations. One hears such comments, as - I'm able to baste the chicken with one hand and outline the paper with the other. While our mothers were called to workforce for Lady Liberty. It is our duty- nay, obligation to reclaim our place in the home, bearing the children that will carry our traditions into the future. One must pause to consider why Miss Katherine Watson, instructor in the art history department has decided to declare war on the holy sacrament of marriage. Her subversive and political teachings encourage our Wellesley girls to reject the roles they were born to fill.
  • Does he pay you... for sex? I mean at the rate you're going, you could make a fortune.

Bill Dunbar

  • [In reference to Betty's future in laws] Did you ever hear the phrase "Keeping up with the Jones'" [points to the Jones] Mr. and Mrs. Jones. The actual historic family they named the phrase after.


Betty Warren:: Don't disregard our traditions just because you're subversive.
Katherine Watson: Don't disrespect this class just because you're married.
Betty Warren: Don't disrespect me just because you're not.
Katherine Watson: Come to class, do the work, or I'll fail you.
Betty Warren: If you fail me, there will be consequences.
Katherine Watson: Are you threatening me?
Betty Warren: I'm educating you.
Katherine Watson: That's my job.

Betty Warren: She's smiling. Is she happy?
Mrs. Warren: The important thing is not to tell anyone.
Betty Warren: She looks happy. So, what does it matter?
Mrs. Warren: Don't wash your dirty laundry in public.

Joan Brandwyn: It was my choice... not to go. He would have supported it.
Katherine Watson: But you don't have to choose.
Joan Brandwyn: No, I have to. I want a home; I want a family, that's not something I'll sacrifice.
Katherine Watson: No-one's asking you to sacrifice that, Joan, I just want you to understand you can do both.
Joan Brandwyn: Do you think I'll wake up one morning and regret not being a lawyer?
Katherine Watson: Yes, I'm afraid that you will.
Joan Brandwyn: Not as much as I regret not having a family, not being there to raise them. I know exactly what I'm doing and it doesn't make me any less smart.
[Katherine looks down]
Joan Brandwyn: This must seem terrible to you.
Katherine Watson: I didn't say that.
Joan Brandwyn: Sure you did. You always do. You stand in class and tell us to look beyond the image, but you don't. To you a housewife is someone who sold her soul for a center hall colonial. She has no depth, no intellect, no interests. You're the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.
Katherine Watson: [hugs Joan] Congratulations. Be happy.

Charlie Stewart: My parents say my future is right on the horizon.
Connie Baker: Tell them the horizon is an imaginary line that recedes as you approach it.

Betty Warren: [voiceover] All her life, she had wanted to teach at Wellesley College. So, when a position opened in the Art History department, she pursued it single-mindedly until she was hired. It was whispered that Katherine Watson, a first-year teacher from Oakland State, made up in brains what she lacked in pedigree. Which was why this bohemian from California was on her way to the most conservative college in the nation.
Staunton's Secretary: I was in California once. How do you get any work done with all that sunshine?
Katherine Watson: We tan in class.

Giselle Levy: [in reference to the husband in etiquette class] Whatever you do, don't put the boss's wife next to your husband.
Betty Warren: Why not?
Giselle Levy: She's screwing him.

Connie Baker: And, it was perfect, romantic, we stayed up all night, talking.
Joan Brandwyn: [to Giselle] You're late, what happened to Sunday brunch?
Giselle Levy: We stayed up all night, too. Not talking.
Connie Baker: The psychoanalyst again.
Giselle Levy: Divine exhaustion.

Katherine Watson: [about Betty's Wedding] This is quite the event. I'm surprised I was invited.
Bill Dunbar: Well, look around you. [beat] Who wasn't?

Katherine Watson: Slide. Contemporary art.
Connie Baker: Now that's just an advertisement.
Katherine Watson: Quiet! Today you just listen. What will the future scholars see when they study us? A portrait of woman today? There you are ladies. The perfect likeness of a Welesley graduate, Magna Cum Laude doing exactly what she was trained to do. Slide. A Rhodes scholar. I wonder is she reciting Chaucer while she presses her husband's shirts. Slide. Heh, now you physics major's can calculate the mass and volume of every meat loaf you ever make. Slide. A girdle to set you free! What does that mean?... What does that mean?... What does it mean? I give up. You win. The smartest women in the country... I didn't realize that by demanding excellence I would be challenging... what did it say?
[walks over to student's desk and picks up newspaper]
Katherine Watson: what did it say? um... the roles you were born to fill
[looks up at Betty]
Katherine Watson: is that right? the roles you were born to fill?... It's, uh, it's my mistake.
[drops paper and walks out of classroom]
Katherine Watson: Class dismissed.

Katherine Watson: [Looking over Joan's file] Pre-law? Well... have you decided which law school you're going to?
Joan Brandwyn: Well, I haven't really thought much about it. After Wellesley, I plan on getting married.
Katherine Watson: And then what?
Joan Brandwyn: [confused] And then... I'll be married.

External links

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