In 1953, a new teacher (Julia Roberts) rattles conservative Wellesley College. Once again, a modern movie star goes back in time to give the savages of the 1950s the benefit of her 21st-century wisdom. The script by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal is more smug and complacent than the 1950s ever were, and it panders shamelessly to Roberts’ vanity: nothing
in the movie is good enough for her character—not her students, her men, her bosses or her colleagues. What saves the film from its own condescension is director Mike Newell’s deft touch and the fine performances of the students—Julia Stiles, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ginnifer Goodwin—all of whom easily act rings around Roberts. Juliet Stevenson, as the school nurse, disappears early on after threatening to steal the picture.