Once you get past the punny, name/gender-reversing title, “Mrs. Washington Goes to Smith” settles into a series of cliches stacked as high as a pile of library books. Cybill Shepherd stars as the divorcee with grown kids who goes back to Smith College to finish her degree (she dropped out with a year left), forging relationships with her new roommate and a handsome poetry professor. All told, it’s a modest cut above most of the recent Hallmark melodramas — unless you mind being able to predict every story beat well in advance.
Shepherd’s Alice Washington is still smarting from her wayward husband’s betrayal and feels slightly out of place alongside Smith’s youthful students. Meanwhile, roommate Zoe (singer Corri English) has unresolved mommy issues, though she and Alice gradually find common ground.
Alice is attracted to Professor O’Neil (Jeffrey Nordling, deserving of better), with one long coffee date stirring up long-dormant feelings. Of course, there’s the little matter of their student-teacher relationship to be worked out, but that’s for a later act.
Director Armand Mastroianni and writer Susan Rice seem to realize that there’s precious little story here, so they pad it out with subplots from other movies — Alice as a bench-warmer on the basketball team, Zoe preparing for a piano recital that she must ace to graduate. It all amounts to killing time, essentially, as well as providing some heartwarming (if, in the case of the basketball, badly shot) moments along the way.
Lensed at UCLA and at Smith, the movie mostly relies on Shepherd’s ability to convey Alice’s vulnerability to make her sympathetic and relatable for Hallmark’s mostly older female audience.
By that measure, give “Mrs. Washington” passing grades, with the disclaimer that this is much closer to community college fare than the Ivy League.