Directed By Greta Gerwig
Starring – Saorise Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothee Chalamet
The Plot – Four sisters (Ronan, Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen) come of age in America in the aftermath of the Civil War.
Rated PG for thematic elements and brief smoking.
– Alternative take. Getting this out of the way first; this is not the novel or Winona Ryder adaptation that you remembered. This is Gerwig taking a familiar property and fleshing it out in the most dramatically building way possible, bringing forth my single favorite adaptation of the source material to date. It remains faithful to the general outline of “Little Women”, but makes the appropriate tweaks necessary in fleshing these ladies out with a wider scope, and I think its differences justify its existence, if even just to see Gerwig’s signature ironies and devilish sarcasm at play in the dialogue. It kept me continuously interested throughout 130 minutes of run time, and maintains air-tight pacing with a screenplay that puts value in every single scene.
– Dual narrative. This is especially pleasing with the novel origin because it simultaneously juggles the stories from two respective timelines, so that this already ambitious run time doesn’t exceed itself to convoluted depths. What’s surprisingly pleasant is how each delve into each respective time frame wields more meaning to the other arc’s navigation. For instance, if we see two characters together in present day, it holds no weight of significance with us, because we don’t fully understand how it happened in the first place. When that changes in the past, it makes what is taking place in the current day all the more meaningful because only then we understand the psychology of the what’s transpiring inside of their mentalities and looks towards one another. It’s a near-brilliant storytelling method that tries to encapsulate as much as it can about the two novels that preceded it, and is the finest examples of contrast between the ladies, that better elaborates how each of them have grown with time.
– Deep ensemble cast. From the four March sisters, which include some of the biggest names today, in Ronan, Watson, and Pugh, to the accomplished names, like Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, and Chris Cooper, this is a reputably structured cast that stands as a crossroads of generations all exuding the story’s influence over them. It brings for no shortage of heartfelt turns, like Ronan’s ferocity as Jo, or Cooper’s stirring fragility as a neighbor suffering with grief. All of them were great, but it’s Pugh who truly transforms herself as Amy, with an evolution that provides tremendous growth between only three years of passed time. In the past arc, Amy is immature and full of jealousy, but the current arc renders her with the kind of confidence and class that only time in Europe can provide. This actress has riveted me with turns in “Midsommar” and “Lady Macbeth”, but this one might be her single best work to date, as her excess depth overshadows the work of the immense names she shares the screen with, and establishes her as a vital presence that will be in big name roles for a long time.
– Dissecting women. This is easily Gerwig’s biggest advantage as a director to this female-dominated story, because it allows her to show what about women makes them so much more than just love-thirsty in cinema. This mentality is easily the thing that drives me most crazy about their Hollywood rendering, and Greta is more than capable of providing food for thought against said argument. In the March sisters, she illustrates that each of them have different desires, aspirations, motivations, and even resolutions to the conflicts that plague their family. It not only proves that no two women are alike, but also that they are anything but one-dimensional, providing a complexity for character structure that should be the prototype for females in cinema moving forward. Gerwig values them as women more than anything else, and proves that there was no one better in establishing a fresh perspective within this ages-old familiar narrative. It’s a celebration of women in all of their virtues that values them more than any plot or conflict.
– Vibrant production value. There’s plenty to compliment here, as the timely feel of interior locations and immersive wardrobe, which plays into character personalities, gives the film the big budget quality that it has deserved, but never quite received. There’s an advantageous contrast between the many houses featured in the film, which alludes coherently to the March’s current financial burden. On top of this, the interior designs are decorated and structured in such a way that breeds believability within the pre-established time period, all the while preserving a decaying sense of evolution that practically mirrors the one that its occupants entail. On the wardrobe front, there are no shortage of fantastical designs and coordinating color schemes that give each of the sisters their own signature style. The men are equally decadent, ravishing in three-piece suits that visually convey a sense of classification, if only for the way each of its models feel comfortable while inside of it. Gerwig proves what she can do visually with a bigger budget, and fires on all cylinders of production positively with consistency for the time-piece that never strays our believability.
– Constantly engaging. One drastic negative with the previous films that almost doomed my enjoyment of the picture immediately was the sluggish pacing that takes a bit too long to get into the dramatic pulse and developing tensions for the movie. Gerwig’s version doesn’t have this problem, as it quite literally hits the ground running from the very first shot, displaying Jo on her way a publishing house to seek financial gain for one of her written stories. This also reflects on the film’s biggest change from its predecessors, as Gerwig’s script begins in the foreground of the story’s two respective timelines, which provides immediate questions that can only be answered by transporting to the past. This is simply intelligent screenwriting at its finest, as Gerwig almost radically dares audiences to look away from the opening images, and establishing this pacing within this particular adaptation that alludes that this time it’s going to be dramatically different.
– Editing movements. Perhaps my favorite trait within the abstract presentation of Gerwig’s newest is the film’s energetic sequences, like dancing or running, which are reflected in the way the editing absorbs this energy. During downtime between character exposition, the editing is methodical in its placement, not so much stretching to long takes for long-winded dialogue, but rather not overcomplicating countering between characters if it truly isn’t necessary. This evolves when music moves into frame, however, as the editing starts to feel intentionally choppy to reflect the tempo in audible beat that is being heard through audience ears. It continues this through many tracks to the film’s top-class orchestral score, but does so while intensifying the consistency with the flowing of the song. It’s one of Gerwig’s many unique takes that she permanently deposits to the visual presentation, and rewards audiences who are paying attention faithfully because of it.
– Daringly perceptive. A reoccurring theme throughout the film that is even uttered by Pugh’s Amy is marriage being a business transaction for women supporting themselves, who more often than not choose possessions over love. The film dissects this theory, and does so while focusing on both sides of the equation. For Watson’s Meg, it’s choosing love, which has left her and her family tight-pocketed when needing the aspects that could quite literally save their lives. For Pugh’s Amy, it’s choosing wealth over love, which leaves this resonating emptiness from within that she simply can’t escape from. Gerwig’s answer seems to resonate somewhere in the middle, as her unabashed honesty provides plenty of examples that contradict either direction, and really outline the lifetime decision as this lottery that only establishes perfection when they can have both. A lesser melodrama would obviously push towards love being the savior for any relationship, but the world that Greta establishes doesn’t demean ones value for the other, and lays her answer as somewhere cryptically in-between.
– Rough transitioning. I mentioned earlier that Gerwig’s decision to craft this as a dual narrative is nearly blemish free in its post-production, but one unnerving distraction that I couldn’t overlook was the rigid transitioning, especially during the first act, that often took minutes to establish weight within one timeline or the other. Aside from the fact that many of the characters have the same hairstyles and can’t age much visually within three years of storytelling, the abrupt nature of its switch-ups often get confusing, and can even rub together with a previous scene in a previous timeline for all of the wrong reasons. For my money, I could’ve used more establishment within the dramatic color correction between each respective timeline, or at the very least some kind alerting that a transition was on the horizon. It stands as the only truly sloppy aspect of the film’s production qualities, and doesn’t iron out the two sides in a way that makes them easily distinguishable.
– Beth’s plight. One of my biggest problems that exists in every adaptation of “Little Women” is the distracted sense of development for the youngest March sister, Beth, which constantly underutilizes the character with the most permanence throughout the movie. This continues in Gerwig’s version as well, as Beth seems to only pop-up when the film needs her to. Beyond that, certain aspects with her character appear out of nowhere, particularly her love for piano, or her sudden emergence of Scarlett Fever, which comes with so little dramatic depth, because of how and when it is introduced into the narrative. I have never read the novels, so I can’t comment too far on if it is the same in that capacity, but this film doesn’t appreciate her contributions anywhere near as much as the other three sisters. With more exposition and time spent with Beth, her finality will feel all the more effective because of it, otherwise she’s a stranger, and strangers don’t emit the same emotional resonance.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+