In Mona Lisa Smile, a 2003 film about a Wellesely College Art History class, one of the questions posed by the professor to her students is “is it good?” When it comes to films, at least, I think there are two kinds of “good” movies. There are good movies that are, in most senses of the word, actually good. They have excellent scripts, solid performances, and spots in the Criterion Collection. These are generally the kind of movies that win Oscars and acclaim from critics and viewers alike. Then, there are good movies that, by all standard criteria, fall a little short. Despite this, however, something about them wins you over. Although you know deep down that they’re predictable, overly saccharin, and more than a little flawed, they make you feel good. You can watch them over and over again, making them much better than any of the so-called “good” movies out there. Mona Lisa Smile, at least for me, is one of these movies.
The film, set in 1953, tells the story of how a group of smart yet conservative college girls is forced to reexamine art and their lives through lessons by their progressive art history professor (Julia Roberts). Throughout the course of a school year, these young women come to terms with their puritanical values and come to live, love, and learn with open minds. I know that the subject of women’s liberation has been tackled, oftentimes much more accurately and effectively, in countless other films. I also know that the film’s unintentionally melodramatic performances somewhat miss the mark. Still, there is something about this film that makes me love it. Perhaps it’s the movie’s overarching message of liberation and empowerment. Perhaps it’s the nostalgic feeling I get from watching such early-oughts starlets as Julia Stiles, Kirsten Dunst, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Maybe I’m just no match for Julia Roberts’ effortless, toothy smile. Whatever the case may be, this feel-good movie is one of my g0-to flicks for days when I’m feeling blue or under the weather. With its beautiful (and perhaps underrated) set design and pastel color palette, it’s especially perfect for spring days like this. What areyour favorite good-bad movies?