jessica tholmer
March 16, 2015 6:00 am

I have not seen Mona Lisa Smile since I was 16 years old. The movie came out when I was working at that movie theater I keep talking about right now because of Topher Grace, and even though I loved it to pieces, I never went back to it. I would love to make every girl in the world watch this movie, even in all of its corny aspects. The lessons are strong and serious and important. And Topher Grace is in it, so here we go.

EINTKILF Mona Lisa Smile

1. Don’t be mean to Julia Roberts.
The movie begins with Katherine Watson coming up in the classroom of Ivy league brats to teach them about art history. The sassy girls (bunch of our fave faces — Ginnifer Goodwin, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal) are so mean to her! They already know everything and they are not humble about it and poor Katherine’s spirit is crushed. No one should disrespect their teachers like that, but also no one should disrespect Julia Roberts because she is a queen. Sassy little ladies.

2. Never go a year without a hot plate.
When Katherine moves in with Nancy, she gives her a list of rules, two of which include “no hot plates and no male company.” Katherine stares at her for a minute and finally says, “I don’t think I can go a year without a hot plate.”

. . .which is pure brilliance.

3. Challenge what you are told.
One of the best scenes in the movie comes when Katherine teaches the girls about the actual definition of art. As she shows the smart-aleck ladies a picture she drew for her mother when she was a kid, she points out that art is not a defined concept like these ladies have been raised to believe. (Spoiler alert: that’s kind of the point of this movie.)

4. You don’t need a man to be happy.
Or a family, really. Giselle tells stuffy Betty Warren that not every woman needs to get married, to which Betty says something about how “no woman would choose to not have a family.”

I know this movie takes place in a very different time, but just in case any of you fine women think that you HAVE to have a family or a husband or a wife, I am just here to tell you that that is definitely not true and please stop listening to whoever is telling you that it is.

5. Be subversive! 
They throw the word “subversive” around a lot in this movie, often using it instead of “progressive.” To be subversive is to be a troublemaker, a rebel, an agitator. To be subversive is also to be strong, opinionated, different, and yeah, often difficult. There is nothing wrong — especially in a place of stifling authority — with being yourself.

6. Not every relationship is meant for marriage. 
Yes, that is a direct quote, but it is also something that I feel so much and that I constantly struggle with in my later 20s. It is hard connecting with another person, especially on an intimate level, just to realize that marriage is not necessarily the end goal. Even though I grew up with a mother who definitely did not preach marriage to me, in fact quite the opposite, it still feels unnecessary for me to spend time on a relationship that won’t end in some sort of an official, conclusive definition. I don’t know why I feel that, but what I do know is that some relationships can be absolutely fulfilling, yet they can still have a conclusion. Don’t date for marriage. It adds stress that is not particularly healthy for either partner.

7. Challenge everything. 

“What will future scholars see when they study us, a portrait of women today? There you are ladies: the perfect likeness of a Wellesley graduate, Magna Cum Laude, doing exactly what she was trained to do. Slide – a Rhodes Scholar, I wonder if she recites Chaucer while she presses her husband’s shirts. Slide – hehe, now you physics majors can calculate the mass and volume of every meatloaf you make.

Katherine goes on to say that it was her mistake that she did not realize that the “roles you were born to fill” referred to getting married and devoting their lives to their husbands’ needs. Katherine freaks out at the class and then at the President of the school and then to her hot teacher-friend (who is not a great guy) about how she wanted to teach leaders, not their wives. Every part of my body has chills during this scene, and my eyes well up with tears at the fact that we had such women at some point in the history of our nation. And maybe Julia Roberts is an actress, but we all know that she only embodies strong women in her movies for a reason. YOU GO GIRL.

8. Find your truth.
But not all who wander are aimless. Especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition; beyond definition; beyond the image.

The movie opens with those lines, from the troubled, stuffy Betty who ends up absolutely invigorated. I remember when Mona Lisa Smile came out, I loved it so much and I didn’t quite understand why no one else seemed to. Ratings were low, reviews weren’t stellar, but I loved what it stood for, and I still do. It is a very important lesson for young girls to learn that they are allowed to seek out their own stories. Though I would like to confidently state that 2015 is different, a lot of young women still feel the pressure of marriage and children and school and everything else that society forces upon our heads. If you can break free and find your own truth, you will be doing yourself an immense favor. Live your life, baby girls.

9. Other things: Maggie Gyllenhaal is my life, I need a New England Christmas, Topher Grace is the cutest, Kirsten Dunst plays a really good, really mean person, and I wish Julia Roberts was all of my teachers. Oh and just, please don’t get married if you don’t want to get married, thanks.

Featured image via, sassy GIF via, Lucy GIF via, subversive GIF via

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