DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Mona Lisa Smile

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Osadciw, Mar 8, 2004.

  1. Michael Osadciw

    Michael Osadciw Screenwriter

    Jun 24, 2003
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    Michael Osadciw

    Mona Lisa Smile

    Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
    Show Airing: 2003

    U.S. Rating: PG-13
    Canadian Rating: PG

    Length: 120 minutes
    Genre: Drama

    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, French 2.0 Surround
    Subtitles: English, French
    Closed Captioned: Yes

    Release Date: March 09, 2004

    Film Rating
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    When looking at Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa you will notice she is smiling. What is she smiling about? Is she really happy? Or is she putting on a false face to please those around her? While the film Mona Lisa Smile doesn’t go on to answer these questions, one underlying theme in the film is about putting on a happy face for those around despite whether one feel’s happy or not.

    Set in 1953, Katherine Ann Watson (Julia Roberts) has her first day on the job as an art history instructor at Wellesely College. New England. Already outsmarted by the all-girl class, Katherine learns to cope with the traditionalist ideas spread throughout the school, and then try to change them. Katherine is a progressive and forward thinker and it doesn’t react well to the traditionalists at Wellesely. You see, it is the conformity of thought that was expected of the female students of where the woman’s place in life is – to get married, have kids, stay home and cook and clean and be cheery just like all of those pictures we’re used to seeing of smiling wives pleasing their husbands. Individuality was not tolerated, nor was it expected and it also appears it isn’t known by the students to exist as an option. It was just known of what was to come next in life whether you were happy or not.

    Betty (Kirston Dunst), one of Katherine’s students, makes it clear through her writings in the school newspaper that anything outside of conformity wasn’t expected since she had her own recipe of life in store for her. Since her writings are of big influence, the student nurse is fired for giving out female contraceptives after Betty finds her friend Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in possession of one. Sexual promiscuity is not allowed. So being as arrogant as she can be to her other friends Joan and Connie (Julia Stiles & Ginnifer Goodwin), it’s clear there is no tolerance to change that Katherine seems to want to bring in her teachings publicly and privately.

    It seems that Katherine could be influencing one of her students. Joan hasn’t ruled out going to Law School and Katherine privately gives her a ‘push’ to submit what she needs for entrance. But if she keeps helping students to change from conformity she could be jeopardizing her ability to teach at Wellesely. Students could turn against her unorthodox methods. After all, it seems the students can pull up enough dirt on Katherine’s private life that seems on the contrary to their beliefs. What right does Katherine have to challenge the role that women were made to fill? (As wife, caretaker, and maid). She may make some enemies from this and some new friendships as she challenges why the girls really are smiling at their beliefs and if it truly makes them happy.

    I think there are a lot of men out there who would just love to hear their wives beg to play the role of the ideal wife in this film. Times certainly have changed and make it necessary to have both adults in the household effective in the workforce. I’m not sure how long a rebel teacher like Katherine would have stayed as a teacher. Despite the strict regulations and beliefs, the ‘traditional’ characters in this film are not rigid enough to give us the impression that what Katherine is saying is heresy and there will be unpleasant consequences. Further, the movie gets lost in following the stories of the four girl-friends personal lives as well as Katherine’s. There are tiny sub-plots surrounding each, all which move very fast. They are easy to follow, but resolutions come too quickly for each character that makes the film less natural and more like a fairy tale come true.

    On the plus side there is some excellent visuals to take us back to 1953. The set directors made sure that all sets were dressed as accurately as possible for the era. The performances of the actresses were enlightening to their characters. Following a typical problem-climax-solution screenplay, Mona Lisa Smile is an entertaining film even though we already know what’s going to happen. Because of its development and presentation is similar to so many other films, its unoriginality doesn’t make it one of the best films of recent times. Look for other good performances from Marcia Gay Harden, Dominic West, and That ‘70s Show star Topher Grace.

    Video Quality? [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    The widescreen enhanced 1.85:1 image is pleasing to view. The soft photography has a warm look throughout the film to settle us in the autumn days in the ‘50s. I loved the cinematography in this film – I know, it’s just a simple film, but I found the visuals on screen pulling me in all of the time since there were no distracting artifacts to speak of. There is a very minor amount of grain present, as well as small compression artifacts around the smallest objects. The colour palette is wonderfully saturated and contrast is exceptional. Thankfully edge enhancement is not a problem, as it would otherwise ruin the smooth look of the film.

    Audio Quality? [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1, there isn’t a lot of activity in all five channels at once. Dialogue is clean, but sometimes there is a very quiet clicking sound around it that I kept picking up and I found it annoying. Although not a lot of it, the swing music soundtrack is wonderfully expansive, but a little forward for my liking as it can drown out other sounds on screen. Detail is excellent and all sounds are well balanced. Being a dialogue-driven film, I’m not surprised for the lack of active LFE or surround information. I do like it when there is room ambience recorded quietly, but effectively in scenes that are dialogue driven instead of keeping unused speakers dead quiet.

    Special Features? [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    A few featurettes are present, all 4:3 and DD2.0. They are all relatively short and somewhat informative. The Art Forum (6.32) describes some of the paintings used in the film, and College Then And Now (14.39) is a comparison of statistics of subjects related to the film for the 50s era and today. I’m not surprised with any of the results shown here. Lastly is What Women Wanted: 1953, which is self-explanatory. These featurettes weren’t the most exciting to watch. They are pieced together with snippets of cast interviews between segments of scenes in the film. I really don’t like when featurettes are presented this way because they are uninteresting to me. I’ve already seen the film, and I don’t need to see scenes from the film in support of what the actress is talking about regarding the era, college, or art. It makes me feel like I’m watching nothing new and it is a way to draw out the length of the short featurette before the next bit of information. That’s my 2 cents on that.

    A nice addition to this release is Elton John’s “The Heart of Every Girl” Music Video. There are filmographies with Director, Writer, and Actresses, as well as a trailer for the film (16x9, DD5.1) and others. This is another release that Columbia has given to us with forced trailers as soon as you pop the disc in the player… L


    While you may find the progression and solution of the story to follow like x amount of other films released over the years, there are good performances by the talent that keep the film interesting. Great set decoration and swinging music keep the setting real at all times. The subject matter itself makes it worth checking out this film because it’s almost hard to believe how much times have changed, but not necessarily making us any happier. No matter what the era, there will always be a Mona Lisa Smile on someone’s face.

    Michael Osadciw
  2. ClaytonMG

    ClaytonMG Stunt Coordinator

    Jul 27, 2002
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    Which trailers are on the disc?

  3. John Berggren

    John Berggren Producer

    Jun 17, 1999
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    As a huge Tori Amos fan, I feel compelled to buy this release, though I know her part is relatively small. I'm hoping, though, that Best Buy has it in a 2 for $20 deal sooner or later.

    If they'd done music videos for her songs, this would be a no brainer... but then such videos (that don't exist) would only increase sales by an insignificant amount beyond what Julia Roberts will already bring to this release. I just think with her appearance in the film, the Elton John video seems less significant.
  4. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

    Jan 24, 2002
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    Southern, Ca
    Real Name:
    Zen K. Butler
    Thank you Michael

    Being dragged to this one by a date, I suprisingly enjoyed this film. Michael is correct that its' sublots move a bit too quickly. The supporting performances are so good though, that it's worth at least a rental.

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