Doctor Julia explains it all for you
Cigarettes, white gloves, mixed drinks — sounds like heaven, doesn’t it? If you’ve got a hankering for a super-sized helping of fifties Junior League1 nostalgia, better get your well-upholstered fanny down to the multiplex before Mona Lisa Smile2 disappears from the scene.
What is it with us Americans, anyway?3 We never seem to get tired of fantasizing about lifestyles that, if we actually had to live them, we would find intolerable, if indeed we could even get in the door. Mona Lisa Smile pretends to make fun of the fussy, ritualized lifestyle of Wellesley College girls circa 1953,4 but in fact director Mike Newell wallows in all the tulle and taffeta no white shoes after Memorial Day5 yada yada yada like a tabby in a catnip bed.
The idea, I suppose, is that if we were tossed into a citadel of privilege like Wellesley, our funky, laid-back, refreshingly unpretentious, totally cool personae would teach those New England ice queens to do the funky chicken in less than a semester. In fact, the odds are about a thousand to one that they’d convert us, and we’d end up about as unpretentious as George Bush.6
I won’t give you the plot of Mona Lisa Smile (I had to sit through it; that was agony enough), but I will tell you the moral: It’s great to be young, rich, and gorgeous!7 I think we can all say “Amen” to that.
Mona Lisa Smile would have you believe that it’s a rip-off of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969, VHS only), a film starring Maggie Smith that actually had some shrewd things to say about schoolgirls, mentors, and la vie de bohème (among other things, the snobs win). In fact, it’s a cross between Dead Poets Society and Sister Act, and that ain’t good.
- What in hell was, or is, the “Junior League”? Apparently, some sort of clubhouse where minor league society babes could put on pearls and blow smoke at each other for charity. [↩]
- “Mona Lisa Smile” is just a bit of an in-joke here. What we’re really talking about is Julia Roberts‘ smile, one of the great money shots in all of cinema, on a par with Chaplin‘s skid, Marilyn’s boobs, and Woody Woodpecker’s laugh. When Julia smiles, icecaps melt, the earth grows green, and the very air is scented with violets. [↩]
- I should probably say “you Americans.” My hands are clean on this one. [↩]
- The New York Times ran an article featuring interviews with actual Class of ’53 alumnae, who insisted that they weren’t stuck-up and snobbish like the girls in the film. In fact, I’m betting that they were a thousand times more stuck-up and snobbish than the girls in the film, who make Wellesley look like a Bonwit Teller version of Beverly Hills 90210. If there’s one thing you won’t find in this film, it’s reality. [↩]
- Or is it Labor Day? No wonder I never got laid! [↩]
- I’d settle for Neil Bush. There’s a man who knows how to party. [↩]
- Of course, if you’re chubby, it probably wouldn’t hurt to marry that cute Harvard nerd who keeps throwing himself at you. [↩]