| The women of Wellesley in Mona Lisa Smile (courtesy photo) |
O ne of its graduates calls Wellesley "the most conservative college in the nation." Visiting it during a snowy Christmas break, a California man describes the women's school as an "elitist icebox." Although she has always longed to teach there, Katherine Watson, a 31-year-old novice art historian, terms Wellesley "a finishing school disguised as a college." She arrives on campus in the fall of 1953 determined "to make a difference."
Departing from the standard syllabus, which her bright students have already mastered anyway, Katherine introduces them to unsettling modern paintings by Chaim Soutine, Pablo Picasso, and Jackson Pollock. She transforms what was supposed to have been a survey of art history into a continuing catechism on "What Is Art?" But the biggest difference the academic interloper makes is in persuading her privileged young charges to think about their roles in a society that has bred them to be matrons. "Your sole responsibility," proclaims the instructor in a required etiquette class, "will be taking care of your husband and your children." Markedly unmarried, Katherine challenges the notion that matrimony is the highest condition to which her students can aspire. She clashes with Wellesley administrators, alumnae, and students.
| Mona Lisa Smile |
Dir. Mike Newell; writ. Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal; feat. Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Dominic West, Juliet Stevenson (PG-13)
It is not merely a lack of makeup that sets Julia Roberts apart from the pretty women of Wellesley, or Erin Brockovich. Her own Mona Lisa smile, like the one in Leonardo's portrait of La Gioconda that Katherine brings to class, is not a simper of submission. It is a sovereign grin, worn by Wellesley students who endure art history with Katherine Watson. •