Home » blog » Mona Lisa Smile Review – An Inspiring And Beautiful Story

Mona Lisa Smile Review – An Inspiring And Beautiful Story

Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, and Julia Stiles starred in this underrated 2003 period drama.

Mona Lisa Smile Review, Summary, and Cast: 

Mona Lisa Smile Review social image of Julia Roberts and other women on bikes

Mona Lisa Smile is a positive, thoughtful film about the importance of education and a woman’s right to choose her own future.

It’s an intelligent historical drama set at Wellesley College in the early 1950s that tells a familiar story about young women in a new and inspiring way.


Official Description

Academy Award®-winner Julia Roberts (Best Actress in a Leading Role, Erin Brockovich, 2000) leads an all-star cast featuring Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Marcia Gay Harden. MONA LISA SMILE is a funny, inspiring and uplifting film about an art history professor with a lot to teach about life and much to learn about romance.


Julia Roberts sitting with young women in Mona Lisa Smile
Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile movie. Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

Katherine Watson accepts a post teaching Art History at the very conservative Wellesley Women’s College.

Appalled to find that even her most gifted pupil, Joan Brandwyn (Stiles), believes she is only biding time until marriage, the free spirit Miss Watson sets out to challenge tradition and open up a new way of thinking for her students.

Her teaching methods introduce modern ideas into the heart of every girl in this underrated period drama.


The Mona Lisa Smile cast is its main strength. Julia Roberts as the main character, Katherine Ann Watson, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Giselle Levy, Julia Stiles as Brandwyn, Kirsten Dunst as Betty Warren, Dominic West as Bill Dunbar, Juliet Stevenson as Amanda Armstrong, John Slattery as Paul Moore, Marcia Gay Harden as Nancy Abbey, Topher Grace as Tommy Donegal, Marian Seldes as President Jocelyn Carr, and Ginnifer Goodwin as Connie Baker.

Related Content: 100+ Best Period Dramas on HBO Max to Watch

All share the screen along with many other familiar faces. Everyone is superb, with special commendation to Maggie Gyllenhaal, Julia Roberts, and Kirsten Dunst, who all give compelling performances as the Mona Lisa Smile characters.

Marcia Gay Harden is excellent as well portraying a tragic yet ridiculous example of where relying on societal expectations can land you.


Mona Lisa Smile students

The film itself is visually pleasing and is shot beautifully with great attention to detail. The costumes, sets, and props are well chosen, really putting you in the period. Portions of the film were even filmed at the real Wellesley. 

Mona Lisa Smile betty

Mona Lisa Smile can also be quite moving at times with some powerful moments. For example, when Julia Roberts’ character, Katherine, gives a brutal, honest speech about how future generations will see them.

Related Content: Netflix’s Cable Girls (2017): Love, Revenge & Betrayal Put Friendships on the Line

Another example includes a particularly well-handled, emotional scene that takes place between Betty (Kirsten Dunst) and Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal), ending in a surprising and poignant way.

The ending sequence is also quite emotional. Overall, you will likely leave this film with a big smile and perhaps even a few tears.

Julia Roberts and Dominic West in Mona Lisa Smile
Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

Romance fans will appreciate that romance plays a significant role in this 1950s-set drama. There are several romances in the Mona Lisa Smile movie. Katherine herself has two, though given the nature of the character; they take a backseat to her vocation.

A sweet love story also develops between the good-natured Connie (Ginnifer Goodwin) and the equally adorable Tommy.

Mona Lisa Smile Katherine

All in all, I love that Mona Lisa Smile is an intelligent film that does not talk down to its audience. The movie talks about feminism (although not much in the way of radical feminism) and the importance of women’s choices, even if that choice is to conform to rather than subvert societal expectations.

The film also asserts the value of women’s education and her right to use that education after graduation.


In conclusion, Mona Lisa Smile is a powerful and intelligent film with a good message about gender roles (particularly the role of women) and social issues with a happy ending.

You will probably like this film if you enjoyed Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams. I recommend it.

Director: Mike Newell

Screenwriters: Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner

Content Note: Mona Lisa Smile is rated PG-13 for very mild sensuality. Nothing explicit. The rating is actually rather harsh.

Where To Watch (as of the update in August 2023): MAX and Hoopla. You can also rent/buy it on Digital and DVD. 

Featured image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

Five corsets rating
Four Vintage Hearts Rating

Mona lisa smile review pinterest image


By on August 24th, 2017

About Elinor Cackett

Elinor is a writer and semi-recent graduate of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. She has been writing ever since she could hold a pen but her love affair with fiction started when the entirety of David Eddings’ 'The Belgariad' was read to her at age four. She currently has a couple of books and half a dozen short stories on the go. She spends her free time writing, analysing media and knitting very colourful scarves.

More posts by this author.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.