The Other Charlotte and I just saw Mona Lisa Smile, and I, for one, loved every minute of it! Loved it! Oh sure, it’s supposed to be about how enlightened, liberated, bohemian  proto-feminist art history professor Katherine Watson from California (Julia Roberts) goes to teach at Wellesley College in 1953 (eeewww! Cold War! McCarthy era!) and brings the dear, naive rich girls up to speed about how oppressed their lives are. You know, marriage, homemaking, entertaining your husband’s boss, the whole comfortable concentration camp. Good heavens, none of these girls wants to go to law school!

But instead, the girls, led by bee-stung-lipsticked Kirsten Dunst, completely steal the show from Watson/Roberts. They’re not only just as smart, if not smarter than their obnoxious professor but they’re prettier, livelier, and (I know this will hurt, Julia) a tad younger than she. Especially since they’re not bohemians. Instead of the dark, dull-colored baggy skirts and pants and arty Romanian peasant blouses that the good proto-feminist professor must perforce wear, the Wellesleyites sashay around in cute cashmere sweater sets, yummy satin slips from Bergdorf’s, and dishy formal evening gowns (Wellesley girls went to a lot of parties!). They smoke like chimneys–mmm, politically incorrect!–they coddle martinis, they sneak into Harvard boys’ dorm rooms. That’s because the makers of “Mona Lisa Smile” got what Prof. Watson would have called “co-opted” by the supposedly oppressed 1950s. They packed the movie with wonderful 1950s-iana: chintz, pearls, jitterbugging, Whiffenpoof Singers, country clubs. And the music! Those Fifties tunes: “Sh-Boom,” “Santa Baby,” even (crooned by the Whiffenpoofers) “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” I hadn’t heard that one since my mother (Mount Holyoke, x1942, thank you) used to sing it while doing the vacuuming. Mmm! I want to go back to the Fifties! I want a string of pearls! I want to swill champagne from Waterford glasses! I want to wear gloves! Bring it all on!

Best of all, Prof. Watson, a humorless ideologue who insists on turning her art history course into a multi-part indoctrination session, is not only upstaged in this movie, but also gets her comeuppance. It’s delicious. I loved it when the darkly handsome Italian professor (Dominic West) she takes up with for one of her adventures in free love turns out to be feeding her the same lies that he dishes out to the students he snogs. I loved it when the Wellesley girls fail to appreciate the artistic depths of the big, gray, blobbish Jackson Pollock drip painting that Prof. Watson swoons over. And I loved it most when Prof. Watson gets turfed from Wellesley for her outspokenness. Sorry, but she’s not good enough for Wellesley. That school was academically rigorous back then, with serious teachers with good degrees from good universities who believed that college classes were supposed to impart solid knowledge, not function as consciousness-raising sessions. Well-endowed, famously well-paying top women’s colleges during the 1950s didn’t need North Beach bohos without doctoral degrees like Prof. Watson, when they could get, at the drop of a hat, real art historians with Ph.D.s who’d studied with giants in their field like Irwin Panofsky at Columbia. Maybe if Katherine Watson had worked a little on that unfinished dissertation of hers instead of working over Professore Casanova’s ossi, she might still be at Wellesley boring the students silly to this day.