In this girls' own Dead Poets Society, maverick art history prof Katherine Watson (Roberts) strains to show Eisenhower-era lassies that college can be more than a cute diversion before they settle down to the real business of homemaking and child-rearing. Annihilated on her first day of class by a phalanx of know it alls, Katherine rips a page from To Sir, With Love when she tosses aside the lesson plan for a more improvisatory agenda, entailing much modern painting and some extra-curricular agitating. Her tough love tutelage will scuff and soften Dunst's patent leather façade of smug prudery, and leave everyone else scrambling atop the nearest desk in tender salute. A lonely crusader in cable knits, busybody Katherine is more than simply angry with the mid-century sexism that her charges have so seamlessly internalised - she seems utterly unplugged from reality in 1953. Roberts' totally contemporary performance, leaning heavily on nose-flaring incredulity, only intensifies the feeling of disconnection. Compare Harden's go-for-broke portrait of the 'poise instructor', slouching toward Havisham and drowning in chintz. The title promises the type of benevolent enigma that Robin Williams impersonated in Dead Poets, but the only mysteries of Mona Lisa Smile result from frenzied corner cutting as Newell speeds through the last reel, an exhausting cram session of hair trigger speechifying and identity transformations bordering on science fiction. JWin.
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal|
Marcia Gay Harden