Set in 1953, art history teacher Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) comes to work in the austere surroundings of Wellesley Women's College where elite girls come to study, even though, after graduation, they are expected to serve highly-educated male counterparts in well-tailored marriages.
Watson has more unorthodox ways of teaching, which are going to come into conflict with the powers-that-be, who believe in conservative, traditional methods.
Mona Lisa Smile is ably directed by Mike Newell and may well find a loyal female audience, given that all the lead roles are taken by women. In a sense, however, there is a feeling of deja vu.
Isn't this Dead Poets Society, with the genders switched? New broom stirs up dust; pupils gradually appreciate a teacher who makes them think outside the box; syllabus scuppered in favour of rejuvenating the imagination.
Watson's values are liberating. She encourages one of the girls to consider a career in law - shock horror! - rather than deny her intellect and settle for homemaking.
The acting receives high marks. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Kirsten Dunst are lively in supporting roles and Roberts gives one of her more convincing performances.
Essentially, this is a period piece about well-to-do pupils in a situation that has been explored already in earlier, better films.