Playing Mona Lisa

          Playing Mona Lisa is a comedy adapted from the play Two Goldsteins
  on Acid
and featuring a dynamite cast including Alicia Witt, Marlo Thomas,
  Elliot Gould and  Ivan Sergei. Scripted by Marni Freedman and Carlos de
  los Rios and based on Freedman's stage play, the film focuses on Claire
  Goldstein (Witt), a piano prodigy in San Francisco who is undergoing a life
  crisis: She has been rejected for a prestigious competition and her
  long-standing boyfriend dumps her so she takes to her bed. No amount
  coaxing from her overbearing mother (Thomas) can make her budge. It
  takes an act of God (in the form of an earthquake) to force her to move
  back in with her parents. As in the John Hughes teen film
Sixteen Candles
(featuring another fetching redhead, Molly Ringwald), Playing Mona Lisa
  shows Claire's  family at their neurotic worst as they prepare for the
  wedding of her older sister (Molly Hagan), a  situation that leads them
  to neglect the troubled young woman. Further complicating matters is the
  odd behavior of Claire's dad (Gould) who suddenly is home all the time
  without a word of explanation.

          It takes Claire's fun-loving cousin Sabrina (Brooke Langton) to shake
  her from her funk. Along with the unlucky in love Arthur (Johnny Galecki),
  they begin to participate in a round of parties and nightclubs in the hopes
  of shaking Claire from her depression. Of course, she meets a Prince Charming
  (Sergei) and everything seems to set for a happy ending. This being a movie,
  though, nothing goes as planned.

          Playing Mona Lisa has its moments. There are several dryly delivered
  one-liners that evoke laughs (for example, Claire's deadpanned "Welcome to
  the land of the perpetually depressed. I'll be your tour guide"), but on the
  whole the film has a bit of a sitcom-like feel to it. The cast, for the most
  part cannot be faulted. Best-known as the youngest daughter on the sitcom
    Cybill, Witt is good as a piano prodigy (she was one herself and performs
  several numbers included on the soundtrack) but the role of Claire is much
  too passive for this vibrant player. She is an intelligent and talented actress
  but to date most of her film roles have barely scratched her potential.
  Langton has fun as the kooky Sabrina but her part is also a bit thinly
  developed. Sergei, with his dark good looks and dimpled chin, is also fine
  as Claire's love interest. Harvey Fierstein is on hand as Claire's mentor
  and Estelle Harris pops up as a meddlesome aunt. The best work in the movie
  comes from the old pros, Gould and Thomas, who strive to milk whatever
  laughs and pathos they can from the material. They are the two
  Goldsteins who accidentally drop acid and those scenes are not as amusing
  as the writers and director appear to think they are, especially as shot.
  The actors do what they can but are almost defeated.

          Comedy, of course, is relative and personal. With all the talent on
  display, I wish I could say I enjoyed this film more. The twists were
  telegraphed in advance so the comic element of surprise was dissipated
  and left me unmoved. The title, by the way, has nothing to do with the old
  Nat King Cole hit. Rather, it is Sabrina's advice to Claire in how to land a
  man -- model yourself on DaVicini's famous painting and adopt an enigmatic
  smile. Perhaps the critics should also adopt the same stance when
  reviewing the film.

Rating:                C
MPAA Rating:    R for drug content, sex-related dialogue
                                                         and brief language
Running time:    98 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.