Behind the Screen

Updated July 10

The following features interesting trivia and stories about the productions and actors of older and current films. Titles are chosen arbitrarily. This page will be updated every other Tuesday.
Note: As always..Spoiler Alerts



Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

PG-13 (1 hr, 57 min) Director - Mike Newell


Mona Lisa Smile is a 2003 drama film produced by Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures in association with Red Om Films Productions, directed by Mike Newell, written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, and starring Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal.



Basic Plot:

Katherine Ann Watson has accepted a position teaching art history at the prestigious Wellesley College. Watson is a very modern woman, particularly for the 1950s, and has a passion not only for art but for her students. For the most part, the students all seem to be biding their time, waiting to find the right man to marry. The students are all very bright and Watson feels they are not reaching their potential. Altough a strong bond is formed between teacher and student, Watson's views are incompatible with the dominant culture of the college.



The title is a reference to the Mona Lisa, the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, and the song of the same name, originally performed by Nat King Cole, which was covered by Seal for the movie. Julia Roberts received a record $25 million for her performance, the highest ever earned by an actress at that time.


Mona Lisa

In its first opening weekend, Mona Lisa Smile opened at #2 at the U.S. Box office raking in $11,528,498 USD behind The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. By the end of its run, while the film had grossed $141,337,989 worldwide, its U.S. domestic gross did not meet its $65 million budget, falling short at $63,860,942.

Mona Lisa Smile received mixed to negative reviews from film critics. Critical aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a 34% "rotten" rating based on 153 reviews, and an average rating of 5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Though Mona Lisa Smile espouses the value of breaking barriers, the movie itself is predictable and safe." In a typical review, Claudia Puig of USA Today wrote, "it's Dead Poets Society as a chick flick, without the compelling drama and inspiration... even Roberts doesn't seem convinced. She gives a rather blah performance, as if she's not fully committed to the role... Rather than being a fascinating exploration of a much more constrained time in our social history, the film simply feels anachronistic. The film deserves a solid 'C' for mediocrity and muted appeal."



In a message to Wellesley alumnae concerning the film, Wellesley College president Diana Chapman Walsh expressed regret, given that many alumnae from the 1950s felt that the film's portrayal of Wellesley was inaccurate.


Wellesley College

During the filming of Mona Lisa Smile, the Wellesley College campus broke into controversy surrounding the casting of student extras with use of the phrase "not too tan" in a casting call for current Wellesley students, sparking a fear that casting directors were using race to discriminate against potential extras. Producers claimed that they were merely stressing the importance of finding women that reflected the time period. The controversy spilled over into the local media, and producers considered a compromise of hiring willing minority students to act as production assistants. The college issued a press release highlighting the realities of Wellesley in 1953 and defending their decision to allow the film to shoot on campus.

In order to prepare for their roles, the leads were all put through a finishing school two weeks prior to filming.To prepare for her role, Julia Roberts observed art history classes at New York University.

Lecture Hall scenes were filmed at Columbia University, which maintains a 50-year-old lecture hall used in many different films.


lecture hall

Costars Julia Roberts and Marcia Gay Harden won Oscars in the same year--Roberts for Erin Brockovich (2000), and Harden for Pollock (2000).



Krysten Ritter (pictured) and Lily Rabe, now both well known leading actresses, appear in numerous scenes of the film as extras - playing students in the art history class.


Krysten Ritter

Kirsten Dunst, a natural blonde, dyed her hair brown. Julia Stiles, a natural brunette, dyed her hair blonde.


Dunst Stiles

Ginnifer Goodwin's film debut.



Film debut of Laura Allen. Allen graduated from Wellesley. She was a sociology major.



Film debut of Kristen Connolly.



Kirsten Dunst and Topher Grace also starred in Spider-Man 3 (2007).

Mike Newell is an English director and producer for film and television. Newell won the 1994 BAFTA Award for Best Direction for Four Weddings and a Funeral. Newell directed Enchanted April (1992), an adaptation of the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. Miranda Richardson received a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical and Joan Plowright won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy/Musical. Newell also directed a number of films in Hollywood, such as Donnie Brasco (1997) (starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp), and Pushing Tin (1999) (starring John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, and Angelina Jolie).


Mike Newell

A review of the soundtrack to Mona Lisa Smile follows...

"A surprisingly engaging collection of period songs rendered affectionately by modern artists.  The standout is Tori Amos, who indulges her inner chanteuse with a sultry version of "You Belong to Me" and a sassy take on "Murder He Says". Seal channels his inner Nat "King" Cole with smooth cover of the classic "Mona Lisa". Celine Dion reins in the histrionics and offers a lovely take on "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered". Alison Krauss, Lisa Stansfield, Chris Isaak, Kelly Rowland, Mandy Moore, Macy Gray, and the Trevor Horn Orchestra all offer worthy covers of their own. Elton John contributes the one new song...the anemic and pandering "The Heart of Every Girl"...that is the one misfire on the disc. (Barbra Streisand's mannered cover of "Smile" is nice enough but nothing special.)


The end credits for the prominent cast and crew are set in front of vintage footage and advertisements showing women in the 1940s and 50s.




Julia Roberts as Katherine Ann Watson
Kirsten Dunst as Elizabeth "Betty" Warren (Jones)
Julia Stiles as Joan Brandwyn (Donegal)
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Giselle Levy
Laura Allen as Susan Delacorte
Tori Amos as wedding singer
Emily Bauer as art history student
Jordan Bridges as Spencer Jones
Marcia Gay Harden as Nancy Abbey
Lisa Roberts Gillan as Miss Albini
Ginnifer Goodwin as Constance "Connie" Baker
Topher Grace as Tommy Donegal
Annika Marks as art history student
Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Charlie Stewart
Lily Rabe as art history student
Terence Rigby as Dr. Edward Staunton
Krysten Ritter as a student
Marian Seldes as President Jocelyn Carr
John Slattery as Paul Moore
Juliet Stevenson as Amanda Armstrong
Dominic West as Bill Dunbar

film scene