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Archive for the ‘Marcia Gay Harden’ Category

Mona Lisa Smile

31 Dec

Mona Lisa Smile – directed by Mike Newell. Chickflick. A new art instructor at Wellesely College for women finds herself up against unquestioned traditions. 117 minutes Color 2003.
★★★★★
Julia Roberts as an academician is beautifully miscast on the grounds that her popular consistency won’t know the difference. After all, how many of them went to Wellesely to begin with or have even heard of it? The marble-like conservative nature of the institution is sufficiently pigeoned-on to have closed it, and it is a wonder the filmers were not sued. Or maybe they were.

But our Julia prevails. She soldiers through a role for which she has not the slightest cultural depth. She reminds one of Joan Crawford with her broad mouth incapable of a subtlety and her big staring eyes. And inwardly you can see how much she enjoys being a star. Their instruments are quite different, however. Both are calculating performers. But Roberts is more at ease in her work; her assurance arises not out of her ego, but out of a sense of fun and of absurdity. She can play comedy at the drop of a hat, and Crawford could not play it at all. She is neither a masochist nor a sadist and Crawford was both. Roberts is an actress of seventeen smiles, Crawford of two. They are both wonderful. And they were both sometimes miscast.

But the script provides various resorts for Roberts, such as the fact that she expects perfection from everybody, or rather that she expects everybody to be an already finished work of art. She gets her come-uppance, thank goodness.

And in this she is helped by three typical students, Kirsten Dunst who plays a controlling marriage-aimed student, Julia Stiles who plays a young woman on the fence between marriage and a career, and Maggie Gyllenhaal who plays a free-loving girl, co-dependent to unavailable men.

The film has many nice touches and a real feeling of a small New England campus in the 1950s. It is interesting to revisit those times and consider how true or false the film is to them. It is a feminist screed on one level, which is just fine by me, since it is a blatant exposure of the small and very commercial expectations young women were steered toward in those days – and little did I know. I went to Columbia: Barnard was different.

And I wonder at the casting of the picture. It’s been ten years since it was made, and looking at the three leads, Dunst, Stiles, and Gyllenhaal, it is clear what their destinies as actors would be. The first two would go on; maybe they had some talent; Stiles certainly had a beautifully placed voice. But only Maggie Gyllenhaal would go on to be a star. For there she shines, with her sexiness, her intelligence, her deep humor, her wisdom, her flexibility, her charming happy face, and her big heart: the paramount soubrette. Talented as all get out. The first two I would not avoid seeing; they have not wronged me; the third I would make my way to see with relish. And I do.

John Slattery and Marcia Gay Harden and Marian Seldes and Juliet Stephenson are fine in supporting roles. And the picture is not pat. It wisely turns on itself in a way that is helpful to one once it is over.

 
 
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