Dead Painters Society
Have you heard? The 1950s were tyrannically conformist. Women were horribly oppressed. All that underwear — girdles and bullet bras and such — was like a prison. And everyone’s minds were even more shackled than their floppy bits. It’s downright startling, isn’t it? I mean, who knew?
But — and here’s the real surprise — all that cultural hegemony and drilled-
Clearly, no proper young lady of the 1950s would have been allowed to indulge in this level of sarcasm.
It’s like Dead Poets Society — or, really, more like its pale shadow, The Emperor’s Club — meets Far from Heaven (if Nancy Meyers had made it), this Mona Lisa Smile, this female equivalent of The Last Samurai. Really, just go back and read my review of Samurai and substitute “Julia Roberts” for “Tom Cruise” and “New England women’s college in 1953” for “postimperial 19th-
Julia Roberts (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Full Frontal) and her hair and her teeth arrive at Wellesley College in 1953 to teach art history. Her Katherine Watson is a free spirit, unmarried, a slob at home — I think she even wears pants in one scene. She has certainly been sleeping with her boyfriend (John Slattery: The Station Agent, Bad Company) back home in California. What would Joe McCarthy think? Katherine is completely unprepared for the array of clichés she encounters in New England, like Wellesley president Jocelyn Carr (Marian Seldes: Hollywood Ending, Town and Country), at whom you just have to laugh the moment she appears onscreen, the way she’s all pinched and mean — she’s the Wicked Witch of Wellesley.
And then there are the students: bitchy, uptight society spawn Betty Warren (Kirsten Dunst: Levity, Spider-Man); cool, reserved society spawn Joan Brandwyn (Julia Stiles: The Bourne Identity, O); Jewish slut Giselle Levy (Maggie Gyllenhaal: 40 Days and 40 Nights, Secretary); and the adorable “ugly” girl, Constance Baker (Ginnifer Goodwin), whom no man, the general consensus appears to be, could ever, ever love. Katherine has far more than four students, of course, but these gals span the available female clichés of the period well enough to suffice for plot purposes. Which involves the general opening of their eyes and blowing of their minds and expanding of their horizons. Did you know that a woman has choices beyond getting married and having babies? Even in the 1950s? And that having sex isn’t such a bad thing for a gal to do, even in the 1950s? I’m so glad the movies are here to tell me these things.
The almost all-
I gotta admit, though — and you know how hard this is for an inveterate Julia-