Playing Mona Lisa Movie Review

Playing Mona Lisa follows the life of Claire Goldstein (Alicia Witt), who slowly unravels as various forces of nature turn against her. Claire's life is not unlike the movie as a whole, which starts off strong but meanders to a non-ending that is unlikely to leave anyone very satisfied.

Claire is a "brilliant" 23-year old pianist, which is apt casting for Witt, considering she is also a real-life piano prodigy. On the eve of her graduation from the San Francisco Academy of Music, Claire's life starts to come undone. First she doesn't make it into a big piano competition. Then she gets dumped, then evicted, then just plain whiny as she realizes her family (with whom she is now forced to live) is full of freaks.

[] Subplots galore include messy wedding preparations for sister Jenine (Molly Hagan) and a neurosis for dad (Elliott Gould), but Claire is the centerpiece of the film -- and rightly so. Witt is radiant as an actress, and the few times she's been able to strut her stuff at the movies (see Fun), she's stolen the show. Unfortunately, Mona Lisa's rambling storyline portrays Claire as so incapable of motivation that she is literally paralyzed with inaction, so Witt doesn't have much range to show off.

The bulk of the film becomes a hand-wrenching "How will Claire get by?" when she really just needs to get off her ass and stop bitching. There's nothing overly compelling about her self-made tragedy -- everyone's been dumped once in life -- so it's hard to be overly sympathetic.

Fortunately, Witt is so dazzling she largely overcomes the limitations of her character and makes Playing Mona Lisa (a reference to some advice her friend gives her about creating a healthy state of mind) mostly watchable. It's not great cinema, but it's worth a chuckle or two. (The DVD release is a clean but straight dump of the film with virtually no extras to be found.)


Playing Mona Lisa Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 2000


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