A seemingly intellectual tale about an innovative teacher's influence on her students only managed to draw a smile from me when the screen went black and the credits rolled.
Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts), a tyro at UCLA, accepts a job in the art history department at the prestigious, all-female Wellesley College. The forward-thinking professor soon finds that in 1953 the brightest women in the country are frauds, as many students major in domestic subjects such as dinner table etiquette.
Katherine seeks to inspire a group of girls, including the intellectual Joan (Julia Stiles), the entertaining Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and the callous Betty (Kirsten Dunst). Although this stacked cast turns in quality performances, the storyline does not give the audience a chance to become emotionally involved. Joan is the most amiable, but ceases to develop a strong rapport with Katherine. Although Dunst gives a solid performance, Betty is simply too self-absorbed and void of redeeming qualities. When she offers excuses for her actions three-quarters of the way through the film it is too late; we already hate her.
Another problem with the film is Mike Newell's direction. The film's message is annoyingly inconsistent. For example, a woman's freedom from relationships was viewed as a positive occurrence, but Giselle, the only character with divorced parents, is also the only sexually active character, and she has an eye for older men. The implied moral is that without a father figure, you become a desperate strumpet.
"Smile" is also ironically conformist to Hollywood in plot, and the predictability level is almost comical.
All in all, this movie is a poor attempt to create a female counterpart to the classic "Dead Poet's Society," and I want my eight dollars back.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.