I saw a bit of a 50’s period piece today. It was Mona Lisa Smile, a movie about Wellesley College girls starring Julia Roberts. After seeing a few minutes of byplay between Kirsten Dunst – the defender of the traditional women’s roles – and the heroine iconoclast Roberts, I was left with the very great desire to engage in a public debate with the writers, or at least the director.
The story follows progressive art history teacher Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts), who is starting a new job at the most conservative school in the Northeast. She must battle against the wills of her students (including Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal ) whilst proving herself to the stuffy faculty….
Ultimately, “Mona Lisa Smile” isn’t written for today’s audiences. In this liberated world we have today, preaching against the conservative 1950’s “Leave it to Beaver” attitudes seems pointless. Too many strawmen are used to illustrate the “Stepford Wives” behavior of the characters, which left me feeling uninspired.
I happen to have dated a few Wellesley girls back in the day, as did Big Chilly and a few other friends, and it’s too bad that the movie didn’t explore what actually happened in the decades after those poor oppressed girls of Wellesley were liberated. Sure, perhaps they’re only using their physics degrees to teach courses about Queer Theory in Indian Film instead of using them to estimate the weight of the pork roast after they complete their “highly charged” erotic educations – despite the furious response to the infamous Rolling Stone article, not even the President of the college dared to deny its basic accuracy – and maybe the world really doesn’t need another few hundred lawyers and social scientists, but what’s the matter with a sub-replacement birth rate anyhow. We can always import more third worlders, right? Look how well it’s working for England!
Anyhow, the movie was interesting timing considering the subject tomorrow’s column.