We agree on a lot of things about the Mona Lisa Smile, our main area of disagreement being that you loved the movie while I loathed it. A minor point. Your most dazzling observation is that the film doesn’t really succeed because, “You need a powerful and sexy Bohemia to present to work against the aristocratic WASP culture.” Bohemia, both in this movie and cultural history in general, has been slighted of late. What has happened to it? I call it the democratization of Bohemia, and it revolves around the sentimental notion that we’re all artists, all writers, all poets and musicians under the skin, if only we can escape this bourgeois world that restricts and destroys us. I think that accounts for the immense popularity of a book called The Artist’s Way, a semi-New Age best-selling self-help book. It said we could all be artists and provided tips on how to do this. The movie ends with Kirsten Dunst, having gone through a powerful conversion experience that convinced her that Prof Watson knows best, and Giselle Levy, played by our new favorite actress, heading to Boho bliss in Greenwich Village. Julia is thrilled’they’re headed for self-actualization. They will stand in awed silence before many, many Jackson Pollock canvases. They will drink cheap wine and ‘oh, stop it. One feels that it might be the right thing for Giselle, never a conformist, but not so right for the Kirsten character. “The Hours,” which you mention, is another self-actualization flick’in this one, a mother walks out on her husband and small son while reading Virginia Woolf’s book. She is portrayed with far more sympathy than I could muster.
In our euphoria over Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance, we forgot to shower Marcia Gay Harden with accolades. She was wonderful as the jilted Wellesley grad who returns to her alma mater to run the faculty residence and teach etiquette (not a bad idea, though it’s mercilessly mocked in the movie). She pretends that her boyfriend, Lenny, was killed in the war, and’tip off that she’s really pathetic’has blue cat-eye glasses on a chain around her neck and moves her lips while watching quiz shows on TV. She is portrayed as damaged beyond repair by the “ring by spring” culture.
I thought she was one of the most sympathetic characters. A fundamentally decent gal. Since she wants it so badly, I hope she recuperates from being dumped by that rat Lenny, finds a nice fella, gets married, etc. Let’s hope she does not move to Greenwich Village with Giselle and Kirsten. As for The Group, based on Mary McCarthy’s novel about what a bevy of gals did with their Vassar education, and introducing a wooden Candace Bergen as Lakey, the rich lesbian from Lake Forest, Ill.’it’s been a long, long time, but I’ve seen it about a dozen times. When I saw Mona Lisa Smile, I thought it would be interesting to watch it, along with The Group, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, which features a really charismatic teacher’a spinster whose lover was killed in the war, who both inspires and damages the girls in her charge. Miss Jean Brody did not lend herself to feminist propaganda. That’s the problem with Mona Lisa–it’s simplistic. But, you’re right, TOC, the 50s props were pleasing.