Playing Mona Lisa (Rental) (2000)

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Rental Version Only
Available for Rent

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 93:08
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Matthew Huffman

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Alicia Witt
Harvey Fierstein
Brooke Langton
Johnny Galecki
Elliott Gould
Marlo Thomas
Ivan Sergei
Molly Hagan
Joe Mazza
Estelle Harris
Case ?
RPI Rental Music Carlos Rodriguez

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes, tobacco and other substances
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Alicia Witt is clearly a talented pianist, even if she does get called upon to play some of the flashier pieces of classical music, just so we can see that she is capable of it. So it is quite appropriate that she plays the lead role of Claire in Playing Mona Lisa. Claire is a 23 year-old pianist who has finished all of her training (at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music), and is on the verge of a career as a classical pianist.

    When the film opens, Claire is in a closet, getting changed. For reasons that become clear during the film, she lights up a bong, chokes on the smoke, and is confronted by family and friends with a bong in one hand, and a bottle of whisky in the other. From their expressions, this is not expected behaviour on her part. To discover what's behind this, we must go back some three months, which is what we do immediately after the opening credits.

    Claire is a fairly straight girl, daughter of Jewish parents Bernie (Elliott Gould) and Sheila (Marlo Thomas), sister of Jenine (Molly Hagan, who looks like a young Andie MacDowell, even though she is only three years younger). She has been studying piano for 18 years, and everything is fine. She has a close relationship with her teacher, Bennett (Harvey Fierstein). Her life is fine, until it falls apart.

    Claire is lead astray by her best friend, Sabrina (Brooke Langton). Sabrina wants Claire to have some fun, which means smoking (Claire doesn't) and drinking (not that either), maybe some drugs (nah, not that either), and perhaps a casual relationship with a man. Sabrina explains her technique for attracting men — she emulates the most admired woman in the world: the Mona Lisa. That mysterious half smile, that distance, that touch-me-not look, and the fact that no one knows what she is thinking.

    Claire's other friend, Arthur (Johnny Galecki), who is depressed all the time, desperately wants to embrace Alice (Tammy Townsend). His huge problem with Alice is that she's a cheerleader.

    Basically, this film is about a detour in Claire's life. Does this sound a bit disjointed? That's good — that's what the film is like. There are some fabulous scenes (her parents encounter with LSD-doped mushrooms is very funny, for example, as is the sequence in the nightclub where Claire is trying to attract men), but these are separated by scenes that are a lot less than fabulous.

    Alicia Witt is gorgeous (when she's not acting hung over). I'm not sure why she made this film, apart from the fact that her piano skills made her an obvious choice. She deserves better scripts than this, and much better quality direction than she gets from debut director Matthew Huffman. Still, her performance, and that of Harvey Fierstein, almost made me forget how dreadful the story is. I can't recommend this as a brilliant story, but you may find it diverting.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    This film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced. This is the original theatrical aspect ratio as far as I can discover.

    The image is sharp and clear without being harsh. It has good shadow detail and no low-level noise.

    Colour is superb — deep and rich, including the beautiful red shades of Alicia Witt's hair. Sabrina's outfits give the phosphors in your display every opportunity to demonstrate their extremes. There are no colour-related artefacts.

    There are no film artefacts of note. There are a few faint traces of aliasing, and a little moire, but no significant MPEG artefacts; there are some light touches of background shimmer, but not enough to be worthy of note. Basically this is a clean and beautiful transfer.

    The only subtitles are English for the Hearing Impaired. They are accurate (with one exception), well-timed, and easy to read..

    The disc is single-sided and single layered. That means no layer change, which is good.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The only soundtrack is English, Dolby Digital 2.0, not surround-encoded. The original soundtrack was stereo, so this is accurate. There's a distinct stereo spread to the soundtrack.

    The dialogue is easy to understand, excepting some words from Elliott Gould. There are no audio sync errors.

    Carlos Rodriguez has written an interesting score. The music varies from solo piano, through salsa, to polka (Jewish accordion music), to contemporary songs — quite a variety, but it really works.

    This soundtrack makes no use of the surrounds or the subwoofer.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are no extras, but this is a rental disc, so maybe something exciting will happen on the sell-through version?


    The menu is static and silent.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This title was released on DVD in Region 1 fairly recently, and it sounds like it is identically featured, with the same extensive (!) list of extras. What description I can find makes it sound like the transfers are on a par, so you can feel free to get either version, confident that you're not missing anything. Bearing in mind that the R4 is a rental, maybe we'll end up with more than the R1 when this disc goes to retail. Or maybe not.


    Playing Mona Lisa is a quirky movie that doesn't quite work, on quite a good DVD.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is good.

    The extras seem to have escaped from my disc — if you happen to see them, could you send them back, please?.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Thursday, October 24, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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