Mona Lisa Smile is a historic fiction drama film starring Julia Roberts, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhall, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Kirsten Dunst. It centers on the life of teacher Katherine Watson, (Roberts), who teaches art to young women at a conservative 1950's private college. Watson sees her students as conflicted by the constraints of society. In the hope of giving her own life meaning, she attempts to show the young women that there is more to life than the proper marriage, children, and managing a home.
When the young women of her Wellesly college exhibit indifference toward class on the first day of school, teacher Katherinee Watson decides to veer from the standard syllabus and encourage the women to use their minds, discover their individuality, and state their opinions. She quickly becomes frustrated with the girls' lack of individual self-worth. Watson is unlucky in love but big in heart as she tries to convey that women need not define their value by the archaic standards of status and marriage.
The young women in the film are mostly from proper, privileged homes. Betty Warren (Dunst) is a talented writer whose conservative views prevent her from seeing the trouble in her marriage with philandering husband Spencer. Giselle Levy (Gyllenhaal) is a liberal young woman known for her scandalous lifestyle, resulting in the other young women avoiding and gossiping about her. Though she dreams of becoming a lawyer, Joan Brandwyn (Stiles) decides that domestic life is her only option. Troubled by the politics of social position, Connie Baker (Goodwin) is a young woman who lacks status and, as a result, confidence in love.
The interactions between characters and emotional connections made between them gives Mona Lisa Smile a charming feel. This clever glimpse into 1950's women's politics serves as a reminder of struggles women overcame to gain acceptance outside the home. This period piece is laid out well, and authentic artwork, furnishings, and architecture add to the genuine feel of the film.