Where was Mona Lisa Smile filmed?
New York, Massachusetts
American, NatureScapes, House, Schools/Colleges
Americana/Anywhere America, Art Deco, School, Ranch Style, Rustic
About Mona Lisa Smile
The film Mona Lisa Smile, written by Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner, and directed and produced by Mike Newell, was released in theaters in 2003. The film was well-received by critics and audiences and starred multiple big stars of the time. This included Julia Roberts, Julia Stiles, Kirsten Dunst, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
The title of the movie references the famous Da Vinci painting and takes place in the year 1953. The character Katherine, played by Julia Roberts, has just started at Wellesley College as an art history teacher. As the movie starts she meets her students and learns that they have already memorized their syllabus and textbook. Katherine spends her classes encouraging the women to consider options other than marriage for their lives.
In doing so, she upsets her conservative student named Betty. Betty runs numerous editorials about Katherine during the course of the movie, mainly against what she is teaching the students. Other editorials attack different members of campus for various scandals. She marries the character Spencer, content to be a housewife.
Other major characters that Katherine gets close to in her class include Giselle, Connie, and Joan. Giselle is the most liberal of the students and admires what Katherine is doing. Joan wants to be a lawyer, though she ultimately chooses to live life as a housewife instead.
Connie dates a character named Charlie, who is also Betty’s cousin. The relationship is sabotaged by Betty, the two rekindle the relationship after several weeks apart. Katherine also starts a relationship with Bill, another professor at the college. When she learns that he is not the war hero he claimed to be, she breaks up with him.
When Betty learns that Spencer has had an affair, her marriage takes a rough turn. Her mother wants her to stick by her husband, but Betty doesn’t feel like that’s the right decision for her. She talks with Giselle before seeking out Katherine for her support.
Betty decides to live with Giselle and get a new start. She even tells her mother she might go to law school. As the year ends, with Katherine closer to her students than ever, she is asked to come back. However, the class will have to be restricted and she decides to spend time traveling Europe instead. As she leaves at the end of the film, her students gather to wave her off.
Mona Lisa Smile Locations
Most of the locations used for the 2003 Mona Lisa Smile were found across Northern California. On the other side of the country, New York City was also utilized for filming. Some of the scenes were also filmed in Connecticut, such as the scenes depicting Yale Law School.
The school that Katherine works at in Mona Lisa Smile, Wellesley College, is an actual college found in Massachusetts. The real college campus was used for multiple days of filming, offering a place for the fictional classes and students to come to life. Fans of the movie can stop by the college today to see where Julia Roberts, Julia Stiles, and other well-known actresses walked.
The city of Parker, Arizona was also used for a few shots. This area was used for the scenes where Julia Roberts travels by train. Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, New York can also be glimpsed as the backdrop of some of the scenes in Mona Lisa Smile. Some of the other notable New York locations used were Yonkers, Brooklyn, and Putnam Valley. California locations where filming took place included San Francisco and Oakland.
First class scene in Mona Lisa Smile
Pendleton Hall East, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts
The film Mona Lisa Smile starts by introducing the audience to Katherine, who is played by Julia Roberts. The year is 1953, and she has been asked to teach art history at Wellesley College in New York. Like much of the campus scenes, the shots of Katherine arriving and teaching her first class were filmed on location at the actual Wellesley College.
Betty is heard in a voice-over during this time, “All her life, she had wanted to teach at Wellesley College. So, when a position opened in the Art History department, she pursued it single-mindedly until she was hired. It was whispered that Katherine Watson, a first-year teacher from Oakland State, made up in brains what she lacked in pedigree. Which was why this bohemian from California was on her way to the most conservative college in the nation.”
During the first class, she is expecting to go over the syllabus and introduce them to the textbook but finds out the students have read everything. Katherine decides to discuss what makes good art instead.
The character Betty Warren speaks out to say there is one standard for good art, and not everything is art.
Betty says, “Art isn't art until someone says it is.”
When asked who must say art is good she says, “the right people.”
This first class introduces Katherine to all of the students she will grow to know over the school year, and it is also the scene that shows the feud that will grow between Betty and Katherine.
Betty gets married scene in Mona Lisa Smile
St Augustine Catholic Church, Larchmont, New York
In one of the earlier scenes of Mona Lisa Smile, Betty marries her fiancé, Spencer. This is all that she has been looking forward to for most of her life, and she believes all women should be married and housewives. The scene where Betty gets married was filmed in Boston, New York at the St. Augustine Catholic Church. Following the wedding, Betty misses multiple classes, and Katherine confronts her about it during one of the classes that she does attend.
Katherine tells her, “Since your wedding, you've missed six classes, a paper and your midterm.”
Betty states she was busy with her honeymoon and getting the house ready and feels she should be excused.
Another student, Connie, tells Katherine, “Most of the faculty turn their heads when the married students miss a class or two.”
Katherine’s response to that is, “Well then why not get married as a freshman? That way you could graduate without actually ever stepping foot on campus.”
Katherine refuses to give Betty any kind of special treatment and threatens to fail her if she does not start putting in the work.
The advice of Betty’s mother scene in Mona Lisa Smile
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan, New York
Mona Lisa Smile is a drama film, and one of the most dramatic scenes of the movie comes when Betty is faced with her husband’s affair. She is at a loss for what to do, so goes to her mother for advice. However, her mom does not offer support for her daughter, and urges her to go back to Spencer. Betty’s mother believes a wife should stand by her husband, and her views are revealed during a discussion with her daughter near Mona Lisa painting.
Betty references the painting by saying, “Look at this, mother. She's smiling. Is she happy?”
Her mother says, “The important thing is not to tell anyone.”
Betty continues talking about the painting to say, “She looks happy, so what does it matter?”
Not getting support from her mother causes a rift between the two.
Like many other shots in the movie, this was filmed in Manhattan, New York.
The truth about Bill scene in Mona Lisa Smile
Yonkers, New York
Katherine spends some time during the movie Mona Lisa Smile dating a character named Bill, another professor at the school. He had plenty of stories about his time as a war hero, but Katherine learns he has not been truthful about that and decides to dump him.
When he has been found out, Bill says, “You're so perfect, it's impossible to be honest with you.”
Bill also brings up a student of Katherine’s, Joan, who chose life as a housewife over pursuing a career in law school.
He tells Katherine, “It's not just me, Katherine. Joan failed you too, right?”
Katherine says, “That's an awful thing to say.”
Bill tells Katherine her motives for teaching aren’t what she thinks. He says she is more concerned about what she wants.
Bill says, “I know, but it's the truth. You want honest, I can be real honest. You didn't come to Wellesley to help people find *their* way, you came to Wellesley to help people find *your* way.”
Betty’s decision scene in Mona Lisa Smile
After her marriage has fallen apart, Betty has to decide what to do. Her mother wants her to go back to her husband, but she refuses. Instead, Betty decides that her and Giselle will find an apartment to live in together. She seeks out Katherine for help at first.
Betty asks her teacher, “Miss Watson, can you help me get in touch with that friend of yours in Greenwich Village?”
Betty’s mother is also there and asks what her daughter is after in Greenwich Village.
Betty tells her mother, “An apartment. I filed for a divorce this morning. And since we know I'm not welcome in your house. You remember Giselle Levy? What did you call her? "A New York Kike", that's it. Well, we're going to be roommates.”
This scene was filmed in Wellesley, Massachusetts, like many of the other scenes in Mona Lisa Smile.
Katherine leaves for Europe scene in Mona Lisa Smile
Wellesley Square, Wellesley, Massachusetts
At the end of Mona Lisa Smile, Katherine is invited to return as a professor during the next school year. However, she would need to stick close to the curriculum and would not have the free teaching range she had the first year.
Katherine chooses instead to go to Europe and travel. As she leaves in a taxi, her former students gather to see her off. Betty can be heard in another voice-over, having grown to admire and respect Katherine.
Betty can be heard saying, “My teacher, Katherine Watson, lived by her own definition, and would not compromise that. Not even for Wellesley. I dedicate this, my last editorial, to an extraordinary woman who lived by example and compelled us all to see the world through new eyes.
By the time you read this, she'll be sailing to Europe, where I know she'll find new walls to break down and new ideas to replace them with. I've heard her called a quitter for leaving, an aimless wanderer. But not all who wander are aimless. Especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition; beyond definition; beyond the image. We'll never forget you.”
This final scene was filmed in Wellesley, Massachusetts like most of the movie.
The 2003 film had an all-star cast with Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, and Julia Roberts, is a popular dramatic movie, and is considered an iconic feminist film. The movie is named after the Da Vinci painting called the Mona Lisa.
Julia Roberts plays Katherine, an art history professor who encourages her female students to seek more than just life as a housewife. Her student Betty has more conservative views, and she and Katherine do not get along for most of the movie. However, by the time the movie is over, Betty has come to admire Katherine, maybe even more so than many of the other students.