MONA LISA SMILE: Mike Newell's (HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE) drama is a pretty period film that combines a quaint pedagogical tale with a feminist dissection of traditional female roles in 1950s society. Julia Roberts leads an impressive cast of top young actresses including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kirsten Dunst, and Julia Stiles. Roberts is Katherine Watson, a revolutionary art-history teacher at Wellesley College in 1953. Though she has true admiration for her intelligent all-female students, she is perturbed that their interest in finding husbands takes precedence over their studies. Determined to instruct them in feminist values and teach them to be independent--defying the college's emphasis on breeding good wives, mothers, and homemakers--Watson is deemed subversive by the administration. Even Watson's identity--from California, over 30 years old, and unmarried--is problematic. And when she turns her class on to modern art rather than teaching the recommended classical curriculum, Watson is severely chastised by the staunchly conservative students and faculty.
Beautiful photography of the picture-perfect Wellesley campus combined with a perpetual parade of lovely period costumes makes MONA LISA SMILE a visual delight. Strong performances by each of the actresses, including Dunst uncharacteristically cast as a prim and proper prude, and Marcia Gay Harden as a boring tv-addicted spinster, only add to the splendor of this enjoyable film.
AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS: Gwen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie (John Cusack) are AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS, two wildly popular celebrities who share their love on and off the screen in this farcical romantic comedy. But a messy breakup sends Eddie to a New Age Hollywood healing center and Gwen into the arms of her current affair, a Spanish hunk short on charm (Hank Azaria). When their relationship troubles begin to threaten their superstar celebrity status and the release of their final film together, the studio heads call in legendary press agent Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal) to take charge of the troubled film's press junket. Julia Roberts costars as Kiki, Gwen's personal assistant and sister who has always lived to please her demanding diva sister. Once overweight and severely self-conscious, Kiki's life revolves around her sister's ridiculous demands in this sendup of ego-driven movie star vanity, penned cleverly with cynical insider wit by Crystal and Peter Tolan. Phillips manages to gather the warring superstars and gaggles of press together at a remote desert location for the all-important press junket where his best-laid plans begin to unravel in this hilarious parody of the movie industry replete with neurotic actors, eccentric crazed directors (Christopher Walken in a gem of a cameo), maniacal studio heads, and gossip-starved press who will do anything or anyone for the next big story.