I did see the movie before, but I didn’t really pay much attention to it as it deserved. All I knew was that it was the movie starring the most in demand actresses; Julia Roberts, Julia Stiles, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ginnifer Goodwin. When I watched it again a couple of days ago, I realized there is much more than splendid good actresses.
The movie tells the story of an art professor Katherine Ann Watson (played by Julia Roberts) that is admitted to Wellesley College, a conservative women’s private liberal arts college in Massachusetts, United States in 1953. She leaves her boyfriend behind and accepts the job willing through art to teach young women to question their traditional societal roles.
The movie is in part told by one of student’s editorial. This makes viewers more into the movie; we not only watch their stories but we also live them. Betty Warren writes, “Katherine Watson didn’t come to Wellesley to fit in. She came because she wanted to make a difference.”
Katherine is initially caught out by the confident students, four in particular, who have already studied the syllabus and know everything Katherine has prepared to, teach them. The four students are Betty Warren (Kirsten Dunst), Joan Brandwyn (Julia Stiles), Connie Baker (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Giselle Levy (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Betty Warren is preparing for her wedding to Spencer Jones under the sever supervision of her conservative mother. She is always in contrast with her friend Giselle Levy, due to the latest liberal view towards relationships.
Warren is also in contrast with her professor that apart from art is trying to teach her students that there is much more to women than marriage, thus contrasting what Warren is going through; marriage. As said before, Levy is more liberal in regards to relationships. She sleeps with older men that are often married and with their Italian professor, Bill Dunbar (Dominic West).
Connie Baker is romantic dreaming and wishing to fall in love. Reading from an advertisement she says, “When your courses are set and a dreamboat you’ve met, have a real cigarette! Have a Camel!” I’ve got my courses; I’ve got my Camel cigarette. Where the hell is my dreamboat?” her dreams of love are often struck by her friend Warren remarks that are often blunt and even if real, are often bad to Baker.
Joan Brandwyn is probably the only student that is affect by Watson teachings. Joan states that she has no career ambitions as she plans on getting married after graduation but reveals that she has secretly considered attending Yale Law School. But then her Harvard sweetheart, Tommy Donegal proposes, leaving Joan feeling conflicted.
As the movie goes and the story of the four girls and their professor become more concrete, we become more familiar with each of the girl personality and their stories. Watson teaching is not appreciated by the school, as they are regarded too liberal; unlike what the school is trying to teach; how to be a good wife. In fact there are classes that teach how to sit, how to look after your husband and how to fully accomplish your house duties. Watson is quoted as saying, “I thought I was headed to a place that would turn out tomorrow’s leaders, not their wives!” Marriage is so highly appreciated in students that they are allowed to skip classes because of their marriage duties.
What is good about the movie, apart from the splendid acting, is the good moral story that is being told. This is not only a story about feminism; it is a story about women’s choice in society. Despite Brandwyn interest in law school, she decides to marry her boyfriend, Tommy Donegal saying, “Not as much as I’d regret not having a family, not being there to raise them. I know exactly what I’m doing and it doesn’t make me any less smart. This must seem terrible to you.”
When Warren realizes she married a man that doesn’t love her, instead of remaining silent as her mother advises her to saying to remain silent and don’t make a scandal. Warren sends the paper for the divorce and moves in with her friend Levy.
Baker is able to let herself go and believe in herself and not in what people tell her. Her pursuit of love is finally rewarded when Connie rushes to Charlie’s ‘boys only’ campus. When he confirms this she admits her mistakes, promising not to make them again and the pair kiss.
As for Watson, she is invited to return to Wellesley for the next academic year but under strict conditions. Watson cannot teach under those conditions and when she thought she didn’t accomplish anything, she is ‘Paint by Numbers’ creations based on Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ that her graduating students have given her to remember them by.
The best touching scene is the end scene, when Watson leaves on her taxi and all her students follow her on their bicycles. What makes the scene so touching and emotional are Warren words in her editorial where she reveals Watson is sailing to Europe and expresses her great admiration for the “extraordinary woman” who “seeks truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image.”
As well as her last words to her favorite professor; “I’ll never forget you.”