Movies

Review: Little Women

Greta Gerwig directs Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh in a dazzling new take on the classic tale.

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Greta Gerwig's Little Women is the latest mounting of Louisa May Alcott's revered novel (published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869), and it pulses with fresh energy and the excitement of a top-tier cast. Gerwig, nominated for Oscars as both writer and director for her breakthrough movie, the incomparable Lady Bird (2017), here settles fully into her status as an exceptional American filmmaker.

Alcott's story has rousingly addressed generations of girls and women, but it's not just a chick flick, especially in this iteration. Its animating theme is freedom—the natural right, not always honored in this irritating world, to pursue what may seem the unlikeliest of dreams in defiance of convention and societal condescension.

The movie's grandest dreamer is Jo March (Saoirse Ronan), who is determined to become a writer, a goal we see her working toward in New York as the movie opens. Before long we realize that Gerwig has boldly separated the novel's timeline into two periods, set seven years apart, so we're also frequently observing Jo in her younger days at the March family home in Concord, Massachusetts (where Alcott was largely raised), in a house that's a monument to cozy 19th Century clutter. (The picture is beautifully made, with carefully detailed production design by Coen brothers associate Jess Gonchor; gorgeous cinematography, conjuring a long-ago New England of stately clapboard houses and long snow-blanketed fields, by Yorick Le Saux; and richly draped and textured costumes by Jacqueline Durran.)

Jo's sisters represent differing avenues of female aspiration. The eldest, Meg (Emma Watson), is a beauty who's tired of having no money and wants to marry. Jo's younger sibling, Beth (Eliza Scanlen, of Sharp Objects) is musically inclined, but sickly. And the baby of the family, the pugnacious Amy (Florence Pugh), is set on becoming a world-class painter. ("I want to be great, or nothing," she announces.) Doing her best to encourage the girls is their mother, Marmee (Laura Dern), who's struggling to raise them in the absence of their father (Bob Odenkirk), currently away serving as a pastor with Union forces in the Civil War.

All of the girls are intrigued, to one extent or another, by Theodore "Laurie" Lawrence (Timothée Chalamet), an attractively tousled rich boy who lives nearby in a mansion owned by his kindly grandfather (Chris Cooper). Laurie is drawn to Jo, but her dreams are too big to include him. Also circling the action is a wealthy relative, Aunt March (Meryl Streep), who's planning to take Amy along on a grand tour of Europe to broaden her cultural horizon, and an impoverished immigrant—a German academic named Friedrich (French film star Louis Garrel) —whose relationship with Jo gets off to an awkward start after she gives him some of her stories to read. "I don't like them," he tells her. "I think they are not good." (Ronan, once again peerless here, displays only the subtlest flicker of hurt before striking back with, "You'll always be a critic and never an author.")

Alcott's story is deceptively simple, and its dialogue still resonates today. Jo is generally irked by women's constricted situation in the society of her time, and she marvels at her hardworking mother's equable demeanor. "You're never angry," she observes. "I'm angry nearly every day of my life," Marmee quietly replies.

Jo doesn't think she will ever marry ("I love my liberty") and she's usually adamant about it. "I'm sick of people saying that love is all a woman is fit for," she tells Marmee, as a wave of feeling suddenly rises. "But I'm so lonely."

And when Meg expresses her romantic plans with a young local man, Jo tells her, in one of movie's most glorious lines, "You will be bored with him in two years—and we will be interesting forever."

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  1. Where’s Barfman when you need him?

  2. If it is as good as Lady Bird, I’ll pass.

    1. Bitter, gecko?

  3. Are there any good cat fights or girl on girl action?

    If not, I’ll pass.

    sarc

  4. it’s not just a chick flick

    You failed to support that assertion.

  5. My wife dragged me to it. Whether it’s a chick flick or not is irrelevant. It’s a snooze-fest, with over-the-top acting exacerbated by over-the-top music.

    1. I also saw the movie…

      Speaking of the music, I think its clear that the music was put in as a trick to make things seem less lifeless, because if the music were not in, the problems with the movie would be much more obvious. There’s very little sense of drama; by that I don’t just mean external drama (action) but there’s also little sense of internal drama (tension). Its just a series of vignettes which are glued together by the music.

      The vignettes do have a lot of charm and they’re very nicely painted, both in scenery and in the characters. The movie is in fact very beautifully made in some ways. But the most dramatic the movie gets is two scenes where this series of vignettes is punctuated by one of the girls making an out-of-the-blue speech about how hard it is to be a woman in the 19th century. Even the one sister dying is more of lifeless event.

      I didn’t find it bad, just not very brilliant.

      Tho probably my opinion of Louisa May Alcott, too.

  6. There are now something like eight adaptations of this book. I am guessing based on past releases we should be getting a new Dracula any day now.

    Hollywood is bankrupted of ideas. It is a shitshow of remakes, superheroes, and crusty old guys. It presents a liberal aesthetic while being gross and sexist in the extreme.

    1. Well, there were two early adaptations of The Maltese Falcon before the John Huston version, which became the classic.

      1. I thought you were mistaken when you said “two,” but I see from Google that you’re right. I’d never heard of Satan Met a Lady before. Sounds like a real curiosity.

    2. Hollywood is bankrupted of ideas.

      Not at all. We live in an era in which new ideas expressed in the arts are more plentiful and available than ever. What Hollywood, and American business in general, lacks, is a willingness to take risks.

      1. Yes, it lacks a willingness to take risks, but you left out WHY. I’ll fill that in for you: The movie industry is a business. That means it that depends on INVESTORS to finance production, just like any business. When the public IS NOT WILLING to spend their hard-earned cash on an unknown quantity like an original movie, why should investors shell out millions of dollars to create it? Why would investors in ANY business do that with a product that odds are won’t turn a profit? That’s why actors and screenwriters who can’t get their pet project produced by a major studio, end up resorting to Kickstarter campaigns to get them made.

        If you want to see more original content come out of Hollywood, then get off the couch, drive your lazy a s s to the cineplex, and hand over a few bucks to see it instead of waiting for Netflix.

        1. Nah, lets more narrowly define that problem:

          Movie ticket prices have been going up as there are more sources of entertainment like cable TV, streaming services, games, and the Internet.

          However, I think blaming the audience is wrong, because often studio heads are second-guessing what the audience would be willing to see and end up being totally wrong. This has always been a problem, even before the current market environment. Some studio will skip a movie entirely, or rewrite a director’s cut, or fail to market a film well, because they don’t think the public will see it — but then the movie comes out through some other way, and the public ends up liking it. In many cases, people don’t even know a certain movie is out there, because studios don’t want to give it any advertising budget, judging that it will fail and they don’t want to put money in for a movie that they think will fail.

          And this kind of self-fulfilling prophecy marketing trap happens in many industries, not just the movie industry. Its something I think many capitalism-boosters don’t get about how the market works.

  7. A story including a strong young woman who wants to be a writer in New York. How new, fresh and original is that!

    1. All you need to add to make a Lifetime movie is a boyfriend who turns out to be a psychopath, and the woman’s precocious son who saves her from the boyfriend.

    2. Something that’s actually an interesting story is how fêted women writers, artists, and intellectuals were in the 19th century, even as these women complained how hard it was to be taken seriously as women.

      Not meaning that as dismissive btw! It was kind of a paradoxical time for women. Yes, it is true that there were social conventions holding them back. But at the same time, a lot of doors were opened for them for the first time in history. Academies started letting women in, series of books were written extolling famous women, publishing companies sought out women authors, women activists (especially feminists) were extolled in the public eye. Its just weird we recognize one part of this and not the other. George Sand is a much more interesting figure and she wrote 40 years before Alcott.

      And some of the social conventions of the time also led to similar sorts of identity struggles for male writers and artists, too. I read an auto-biography of a male artist from the time who talks about his father tried to keep him from painting, because he considered it a worthless profession, and wanted him to become a lawyer or such.

  8. the version w/Katherine Hepburn should have been the last.

    1. I’m partial to the Technicolor Liz Taylor version myself.

  9. Honestly, If they’re gonna remake Little women they should cast midgets, dwarfs littlepeople wymen!

    1. They did that. It’s called Under the Rainbow. 😛

  10. Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is the latest mounting of Louisa May Alcott

    You know who else mounted Louisa May Alcott?

    1. Ralph Waldo Emerson?

  11. None of the sisters were born as male in this version? I am deeply outraged. How trans-phobic can you be?

      1. That was priceless. They said a colored person could easily have been cast in ANY of the roles. I vote for Daddy March.

      2. OK, let’s do Huck Finn. Oh right, too racist. Lets just get rid of all movies full stop and entertain ourselves by crying on twitter 24/7.

        1. In all seriousness, there are plenty of realistic historical period movies that could be made with non-white characters. Like why hasn’t Hollywood made one about Alexandre Dumas? It’s like Hollywood progressives only acknowledge black people who are slaves, then they get a token movie about it once or twice a year.

          1. Maybe a story about “free people of color ” in the American south before the Civil War.

          2. Yea, something that struck me while watching the film is it complains that Louisa May Alcott had to have her heroine get married in order to have it published, out of the idea that nobody would want to buy a book about someone who became a spinster. And yet, one of the reason Greta Gerwig’s version of Little Women is selling on the market today is because of the feminist angle. There are a lot of fascinating women in history that you don’t hear about, and fascinating minorities, but movies aren’t made about them because identity politics is what sells for film producers today, just like women getting married is what sold for certain publishers in the 19th century.

        2. Reverse the races and remake it as “Fuck Hihn” where a young black kid brings an old lunatic back in time for rice pudding at the institution.

  12. The book sucks. Nothing. Happens. Why would you make a movie about that?

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