A wonderful and beloved book that has never been out of print and seen several movie and stage adaptations has been made into a movie yet again. Is this one worth the watch and why is Greta Gerwig getting so much praise for her choices?
My usual method of movie analysis is to emphasize certain points or topics of a movie and evaluate if these points are strong or weak. Today, I will adopt another approach, since Little Women is a beloved story and known by most of you.
In that sense, points of the story that are to be emphasized and nuances of the visual sort are in a way products of their time and have potentially less to say about this movie. The stronghold of this movie are the individuals who are portrayed and the changes and progress seen within them, so I will adjust my list of viewpoints according to these priorities this time.
I like Saoirse Ronan a lot and have praised her performances in Hanna and Lady Bird. (read my blog about Lady Bird here) She is a versatile actress and portrays Jo’s struggle between her own strong personality and her sensitive heart in a marvelously crafty way.
I must admit I wouldn’t necessarily think about Ronan when choosing an actress for Jo in my head, which made me hesitant about this choice – but shortly into the movie I was absolutely convinced.
The character dynamic between Jo and Laurie is wonderfully executed (although Timothée Chalamet does little to support that), as are Jo’s ambivalent relationships to her sisters: one full of love and altruism, the other amounting to the same level of rivalry and pettiness.
Jo’s ending I found to be somewhat lacking in depth, when compared to the depths and intensity of her general struggle to merge her artistic and her female personas into one – but since we all do know what happens in the book, I did not mind so much.
While it seems that Emma Watson is just playing Emma Watson here (I was over the showing-emotions-with-your-eyebrows-only-movement by the sixth HP movie), she does fit the role of Meg like a glove. So, again, I don’t mind.
Again I found myself wondering about choice of cast, since in the animated TV series realms and previous movie versions show Amy to be quite a bit younger than in this adaptation. In fact, they have given her much more depth and almost equalled her screen time to Jo – even allowed the rather shallow relationship between her and Laurie to be something more, and shown them ending up together to maybe even be the better choice.
I don’t mind. And Florence Pugh has given Amy so much more depth than she had before, without making it seem artificially constructed, but actually just as another – very positive and optimistic – intepretation of what Amy could be seen as, if she ever were to fully grow into a nice person – so I am impressed with what has been done here.
Really Jo and Meg were ever always the ‘good’ ones, so the ambivalence given to all of the girls is a wonderful addition of depth, were in previous versions, be they as heartwarming as they were, that depth was lacking.
Even poor Beth gets more life and dialogue in this version, although her fate is made into almost a satire by Gerwig’s shift for Jo from character in to author of (more on that later). I absolutely do not mind the expansion on her character either.
I am not particularly fond of Timothée Chalamet – yes, I’ve seen Call Me by Your Name and loved it, but mainly because of Arnie Hammer’s outstanding work and the binding together of an auditive minimalism and visual plenty which made for a marvelous aesthetic experience. But I feel like Chalamet is rather a one trick pony and his performance as such rather one-dimensional. In comparison to his female counterparts, the perfomance underwhelmed me.
But really, the male actors are not the key players of this movie, and none of them – apart from Laurie – got much screen time. That’s not what the movie is about, it is about the very individualistic women, whom the men love and support. So – I probably should not mind that, either.
I am not even going to mention Professor Bhaer any further except to aknowledge his existence. Besides fulfilling his function to the point, his existence is, as Jo / Alcott puts it, imperative in order to sell books.
However, the fact that he challenges Jo to be unapologetically herself by critizicing her authenticity, and turns out to be the key element of the cheesy unrealistic ending is rather ironic. Ha.
Mrs. March / Marmee
If there would not have been that wonderful performance by Susan Sarandon in another previous version, I could wholeheartedly accept Laura Dern as warm, embracing Mother-of-all. But she has not gone into exploring the dimensions of Mrs. March, as the movie has chosen to neglect her personal struggles. I could not mind that, but I chose to. (Who do we put this on? Maybe Gerwig. Maybe Dern. Really it’s a wish for more screen time in the movie. So it’s almost a non-critique.)
Here is a choice I strongly minded.
Is it only me who sees Saul Goodman sitting at that table and thinks to themselves: wtf is happening here? I would have strongly preferred someome else to take that role since during those few minutes Bob Odenkirk has barely time to establish his character. So, no. Surely he does well in his five minutes and portrays the type of man Mr. March is with finesse and sensibility, but I still see Saul Goodman at the table.
Upon further reflexion it turns out to be the same with Mrs. March – the imprint Renata from Big Little Lies (what an astounding directorial and actorial phenomenon of a series! I will be reading the book this year) has left on me is still too fresh on my mind. I would have perhaps preferred lesser known actors for these roles.
Finally, I rather enjoyed the directions the movie took, but I wonder if it was made to be too cookie-cutter, leaving the struggles of poverty on the back burner and showing someone like Amy as a real person.
Interestingly enough, the narrative and (almost – we are still forgetting about Beth too much) all of the the main characters have received new depths and perspectives; the timeline has been rewritten from a more modern angle and the protagonist has been given a completely new, almost fourth wall breaking element of motivation. Gerwig’s adaptation is the best version of Little Women in today’s context, if you take all of these elements into consideration.
However, on the whole – and although as an analysis of itself and as a combination of bering a thinkpiece on the story. supported by solid acting performances, it by far surpasses its predecessors.
As an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s creation, I still prefer the 1994 movie version.
But as a standalone movie? It goes further into the key topics than its predecessors have dared to, has a wonderful sense of general ambivalence and self-observing wit, and is a strong version of the story with wonderful performances.
It ponders upon the motivation and core elements of all the sisters and makes every one of them out to be far more than what they were shown to be before. All that while still preserving the loving and emotional tone of Louisa Mary Alcott’s story.
Thus, I can recommend it with confidence.
Have you seen the new adaptation? Are you planning to? Let me know in the comments below.