The Mona Lisa Smile


2003 | 117 min | USA & Italy
Release Date: December 19, 2003
Directed by:
Mike Newell
Genre: Comedy/Romance
Tag: In a world that told them how to think, she showed them how to live.



Written by: Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner
Produced by:
Revolution Studios, Red Om Films
Distributed by:
Columbia Pictures (Sony)



Julia Roberts plays a free-spirited Berkeley graduatein 1953 who accepts a teaching position at Wellesley, an all-women’s college, where she encourages intellectual freedom to her students (including Kirsten Dunst and Maggie Gyllenhaal).


Set in 1953, Mona Lisa Smile tells the story of Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts), a new young art history professor at Wellesley College, an all-female campus with a prestigious reputation for academic excellence. Unfortunately for free-minded Berkeley grad Watson, her East Coast teaching stint comes during a less-progressive time that finds most of her students — among them Betty Warren (Kirsten Dunst), Joan Brandwyn (Julia Stiles), and Giselle Levy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) — more interested in nabbing a good husband than achieving scholastic and intellectual growth. Watson challenges her students and the Wellesley faculty to think outside of the current mores of the community and redefine what it means to be a success; meanwhile, she tries to come to terms with her own heart’s desires. Mona Lisa Smile co-stars Marcia Gay Harden, Juliet Stevenson, and, as Watson’s conflicting love interests, Dominic West and John Slattery.

© Allmovie


Julia Roberts as Katherina – Maggie Gyllenhaal as Giselle – Kirsten Dunst as Betty

Julia Roberts – Katherine Watson
Kirsten Dunst – Betty Warren
Julia Stiles – Joan Brandwyn
Maggie Gyllenhaal – Giselle Levy
Ginnifer Goodwin – Constance Baker
Dominic West – Bill Dunbar
Juliet Stevenson – Amanda Armstrong
James Callahan (III) – John Brandwyn
John Slattery (I) – Paul Moore
Marian Seldes – President Jocelyn Carr
Marcia Gay Harden – Nancy Abbey
Terence Rigby – Dr. Edward Staunton
Laura Allen (II) – Susan Delacorte
Topher Grace – Tommy Donegal

Entire castlist @ IMDB


Joan Brandwyn is pre-law, but plans on getting married after, forsaking a career for family. Willis encourages her to apply for law school, something that Joan did not even consider.

A lovely 20 year old Wellesley student, as brilliant as she is beautiful, a master of all trades who is not only a straight A student, but a gifted athlete and debater. Close friends with Betty, Joan is engaged to Tommy, an up-and-coming Harvard student with a bright career ahead of him. However, upon urging from Katherine, her new academic advisor, Joan agrees to apply for early acceptance to Yale Law School, which holds only five slots for female students.

To Katherine’s delight, Joan is one of those lucky few – a real honor for a young woman in the early 1950s. However, when Joan later decides to forego the privilege of a Yale education and get married instead, Katherine is devastated at the “waste.” But Joan eloquently defends her decision, pointing out that, for her at least, marriage is a noble calling.


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Mona Lisa Smile Clips:

“They have claws”
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“Do I look like her?”

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“Is that my file?”
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“Ladies choice”

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“You’re not required to like it”
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“I’m educating you.”

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“I really responded to Joan immediately because I was surprised by her choice. She was a nice contrast to the other journeys the characters go through. And I thought the danger with a movie like this was that we would all come away from the movie thinking that the message is all women have to have careers. I liked that Joan really makes an individual choice. I met Mike [Newell] and read for Joan because I really wanted the part.”

“We had a dialect coach but I felt very confined by that, so in order to not feel like it was so foreign to me, I watched a lot of movies from the early 1950s. I’m just like, “Did people really speak that way?” And I know that the movie stars of the 1950s aren’t maybe the average person, but they did. I feel like I modeled a lot after Grace Kelly – the way that she spoke – only because she would’ve been brought up in the same way that my character was. She went and took elocution lessons and went to a finishing school.”

“I think that word has gotten a negative slant to it unfortunately and some people think feminist means man hater and I certainly don’t hate men. But, I would call myself a feminist because I have a different definition of that word, which is much more respectful of women and into equality and also respecting differences. I mean if you want to get into semantics you could call me a womanist or whatever, there are different terms for it. And in Mona Lisa Smile how is the portrayal of feminism? Well for instance it was hard for me as a young woman and a college student and a girl who has grown up with feminism to understand why my character decided to not listen to Julia Roberts and to not go to school and to get married. Then I had to stop thinking about abstract ideas like feminism. I had to think about personally this character who is really in love with her husband. That was what was going to make her the most happy. She makes that choice and that is just as much of a strong feminist choice as any other.”


Domestic Total Gross: $63,860,942
Foreign Total Gross: $77,477,047
Opening Weekend: $11,528,498
Production Budget: $65 million

© Box Office Mojo


Released: 2003
Available in DVD Widescreen

Bonus Material:

Art Forum
College Then and Now
What Women Wanted: 1953
Music Video – Elton John “The Heart of Every Girl”
Closed Captioning
Widescreen Presentation
Theatrical Trailers

More info?


Received 45 metascore out of 100 based on 41 reviews @ [09/29/07]
Overall grade breakdown: A‘s: 52 13.3 B‘s: 145 37.1%

The Boston Globe
The Charlotte Observerer
The New York Times

More @ Rotten Tomatoes


  1. 2004 Best Song (Elton John) Nomination – Critics Choice Award – Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards
  2. 2004 Best Original Song Nomination – Motion Picture (Elton John) Nomination – Golden Globe – Golden Globes, USA
  3. 2004 Best Original Song (Elton John) Nomination – Golden Satellite Award – Satellite Awards
  4. 2004 Choice Movie Actress – Drama/Action Adventure (Stiles) Nomination – Teen Choice Award – Teen Choice Award


IMDBOfficial Site Wikipedia