Mona Lisa Smile (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 13, 2010 by  

“Mona Lisa Smile” features an all-star cast and a solid performance by Julia Roberts!

© 2003 Revolution Studios Distribution Company, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Mona Lisa Smile

DURATION: 105 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English, French, Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Thai, Spanish 5.1 (Dolby Digital), Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Korean, Thai, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified), Indonesian, Arabic, Dutch

COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13 (For Sexual Content/Thematic Issues)

RELEASE DATE: February 2, 2010

Directed by Mike Newell

Written by Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal

Executive Producer: Joe Roth

Produced by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Paul Schiff, Deborah Schindler

Co-Producer: Richard Baratta

Music by Rachel Portman

Cinematography by Anastas N. Michos

Edited by Mick Audsley

Casting by Ellen Chenoweth, Susie Farris

Production Design by Jane Musky

Art Direction by Patricia Woodbridge

Set Decoration by Susan bode

Costume Design by Michael Dennison


Julia Roberts as Katherine Ann Watson

Kirsten Dunst as Betty Warren

Julia Stiles as Joan Brandwyn

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Giselle Levy

Ginnifer Goodwin as Connie Baker

Dominic West as Bill Dunbar

Juliet Stevenson as Amanda Armstrong

Marcia Gay Harden as Nancy Abbey

Jon Slattery as Paul Moore

Marian Seldes as President Jocelyn Carr

Topher Grace as Tommy Donegal

Academy Award(r)-winner Julia Roberts (Best Actress in a Leading Role, Erin Brockovich, 2000) leads an all-star cast featuring Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhall 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.

In 2003, the film “Mona Lisa Smile” which was a loose adaptation of the novel “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” by Muriel Spark was released in theaters.

The film which was released a week before Christmas did quite well at the box office (considering “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” was dominating the box office) and made over $141 million worldwide.

“Mona Lisa Smile” was directed by Mike Newell (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”, “Donnie Brasco”, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”) and a screenplay by Lawrence Konner (“The Sopranos”, “Might Joe Young”, “The Beverly Hillbillies”) and Mark Rosenthal (“Planet of the Apes”, “Mighty Joe Young”, “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”).  The film featured cinematography by Anastas N. Michos (“What Dreams May Come”, “Stepmom”, “Dead Presidents”) and music by Rachel Portman (“Grey Gardens” TV, “The Lake House”, “Oliver Twist”, “The Manchurian Candidate”).

“Mona Lisa Smile” takes place in 1953 when teacher Katherine Ann Watson (played by Julia Roberts, “Steel Magnolias”, “Pretty Woman”, “Notting Hill”) from Los Angeles moves to Massachusetts to teach at Wellesley College, a conservative women’s private liberal arts college.

Katherine is a teacher who was quite independent at the time and wanted her students, who were very intelligent and had potential to do what they want career-wise and would suggest them to not follow the ’50s ideal that a woman must get married, raise a family and not follow a career path.  To not conform to the female stereotype.

But in 1953, Wellesley College supported the notion that women married and not follow any career goals despite the students doing exceptionally well in school.  And thus, the conservative women including the board and faculty feel that Watson should not use her class to express her liberal points of views to her students and focus on teaching art.

“Mona Lisa Smile” features an all-star case with Kirsten Dunst (“Spider-Man” films, “Bring it On”) as Betty, the woman who doesn’t get along with Mrs. Watson and is also pursuing her life as a married student; Julia Styles  (“The Bourne Identity” films, “10 Things I Hate About You”, “Save the Last Dance”) as Joan who is highly intelligent and has a chance to go to Yale University to pursue law to be a career woman but also torn by the ’50s notion that she must be a housewife and raise a family; Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Dark Knight”, “Adaptation”, “World Trade Center”) as Giselle, a woman who has had a difficult childhood and has had flings with the male teaching faculty; Ginnifer Goodwin (“Big Love”, “Walk the Line”) as Connie, the student trying to find love; and Marcia Gay Harden (“The Maiden Heist”, “Damages”, “Mystic River”) as Nancy, the roommate of Katherine who has become a somewhat of a recluse.


“Mona Lisa Smile” is feature in 1080p High Definition (aspect ratio of 1:85:1).  The film looks much better over its DVD counterpart as skin tones are natural but the film is not vibrant as I would of hoped.  There is a fine layer of grain but the film looks like it has been washed out.  The detail that I was hoping to see in the Blu-ray release may be better than the original DVD release but it wasn’t as brilliant, sharp or clear as I was hoping.  The film has strong production quality and some scenes manage to capture the feel and look of the early ’50s but the details and colors were average, not amazing on HD.


For audio, “Mona Lisa Smile” is featured in English, French and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and also Thai and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1.  The film is primarily a dialogue driven film.  The lossless soundtrack is satisfactory for this type of film.  During times where there is music, that is when you feel the soundtrack does come alive but for the most part, the film is front and center channel driven.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Korean, Thai, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified), Indonesian, Arabic and Dutch.


“Mona Lisa Smile” comes with the following special features in standard definition, English stereo and subtitles in Spanish, French, Dutch, Chinese (Traditional), Korean, Portuguese and Thai.

  • Art Forum – (6:40) The talent of “Mona Lisa Smile” discuss the art featured in the film and their thoughts on art.
  • College Then and Now – (14:39) Featuring footage from the film and interviews with the cast about how things have changed then and now in college for women.
  • What Women Wanted 1953 – (10:42) A making of “Mona Lisa Smile” and how things were back in 1953.
  • Music Video – Elton John “The Heart of Every Girl” – For those who love “The Heart of Every Girl”, a music video by Elton John.
  • BD-Live Enabled

“Mona Lisa Smile” was for the most part an average film that was nothing spectacular but did take the early ’50s and show how there were women who tried to give their students choices and showing that they didn’t have a choice to follow the stereotype of women during that time.  But somehow, when men write the screenplay about the women’s movement, it just doesn’t feel right.

If anything, its success in the box office was due to Julia Roberts and the number of talents featured in the film, but its important to note that “Mona Lisa Smile” was helped with the controversy that surrounded it.

It’s important to note that this is a fictional story based adapted from a novel and the screenwriters are using Wellesley College as the setting.  There is no historical accuracy and with that being said, sometimes its best to not use a real name of a college when these events simply didn’t happen at the college.  If anything, all the college did was give the filmmakers the opportunity to shoot at the school because they were going to use the name of the college no matter what.

For one, the film being shot at Wellesley College and students upset that they were being disrupted from attending school and for the most part, the lack of minority students featured in the film (the filmmakers said they wanted to make it authentic to how things were in 1953) and of course, even the current and past alumni who were upset with the “distorted and demeaning portrayal” of their alma mater, prompting the President of Wellesley College to write a letter to the alumnae in regards to the film.

As mentioned, the Blu-ray PQ is marginally better than the DVD release and as for special features, there is nothing new introduced into this release aside from being BD-Live Enabled.

Overall, if you enjoyed the film, the upgrade in HD and lossless audio may be good if you don’t own the previous DVD release but overall, “Mona Lisa Smile” is an average film and an average Blu-ray release.

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