Mona Lisa Smile – Konner & Rosenthal, screenplay

Mona Lisa SmileCritics are so predictable. I knew most of them would sniff loudly at this movie. Here’s my theory: it’s okay to be sentimental about teaching if the teacher in question is a male. Goodbye Mr. Chips, Dead Poet’s Society, To Sir with Love, all of these movies were guilty of sliding into the maudlin, but nobody said so (or at least nobody I can find online said so).

So here’s Julia Roberts as a young academic who wants to go teach at Wellesley because she’s got the idea (in 1953) that women there are smart and aware and not caught up in the fairy tale. She finds out things are more complicated than she expected, and we follow her through the year as she struggles with her conception of herself and her goals and the way she approaches the world.

I liked this move, though it was clumsy at points. It didn’t take cheap shots or resort to easy answers, for the most part, and Julia Roberts gains more presence with every movie.