In “Mona Lisa Smile,” Julia Roberts plays Katherine Ann Watson, a forward-thinking and progressive art history professor at Wellesley College during the 1950s. Katherine encourages her prim and proper female students to question traditional gender roles. She teaches them that there is so much more to their lives than marriage, babies, and becoming a housewife. With her warm voice and the sparkle in her eyes, Roberts encapsulates the type of wise and benevolent teacher who always leaves a lasting impression on students. Through her natural charisma and the confident way she carries herself, she crafts a strong image of womanhood that starkly contrasts with the more conventional upbringing of her character’s debutante students.
“Mona Lisa Smile” features an incredible female cast, including Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Ginnifer Goodwin. Despite some moments of heavy-handed messaging, the film is a delightful watch. It is an empowering story that provides a glimpse into how restrictive life was for young women back then; although the university was an option, degrees were merely a decoration for women, a temporary achievement before the real prize: finding a husband. “Mona Lisa Smile” compassionately showcases the struggle of the female experience between career aspirations and domestic duties — issues that still exist today, despite the evolution of gender roles.