Many critics and fans alike seem to
have hated this film - calling it a tired, labored feminist drama that was
shrill and man-hating. The vehemence of the rhetoric (and the term
"man-hating" in particular) suggests that perhaps the film's message is
still needed after all.
The film's message isn't that women
should avoid marriage in order to achieve personal excellence. Rather, it's
that women should feel that they needn't sacrifice one for the other, that
they may indeed "have it all."
Although Julia Roberts is the star of
the film, her own personal storyline is far less interesting than those of
her students. The evolution of her character was predictable and
uninteresting, her romantic involvements passť, and I found myself eagerly
awaiting the film to move back to the supporting cast.
And what a cast! I have long said that
Kirsten Dunst is the finest actress of her generation. She has demonstrated
with numerous films, starting with
Interview With the Vampire and moving through
The Cat's Meow, that she is capable
of a powerful performance filled with subtlety and nuance. And in
Mona Lisa Smile, she doesn't
disappoint. But the film also shows that as Kirsten Dunst is maturing, so is
her peer group, and she now has competition. I loved Julia Stile's
performance, although I know many who hated it. And Maggie Gyllenhaal
delivered a powerful performance that seems to be universally regarded as
among the best.
It's unclear to me where this film may
end up on my Cosmo ballot. Possibly Best Historical, depending on the
competition. It's a fictional story with fictional characters, but it's set
in an identifiable historical context and reflects the issues of that time,
so in that sense, it merits consideration in that category. And it may also
merit consideration in Best Ensemble as well.
My grade: B
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