Little Women 2019 dir: Greta Gerwig
One of literatures most popular stories which has been given at least 3 prior cinema treatments last century, not to mention a myriad of t.v. adaptations, has now been given a millennial reboot by feminist director/actress Greta Gerwig. Hot off the heels from her “inexplicably” acclaimed Lady Bird – 17’, (which I personally found rather dry and uninspiring despite a fine cast), Gerwig has taken on Louisa May Alcott’s March family chronicles set during the American Civil War in the 1860’s and has given this perennial favourite an exceptional treatment. Her deft handling of the familiar story makes for an exquisite and intelligent film going experience.
Gerwig has chosen to tell the tale of the feisty and headstrong Jo March, her Marmee and 3 sisters in non-linear fashion. The flashback device, which has been criticized as being jarring, means the viewer must keep attentive as to what is going on. The transitions in time and place are clever and intuitive creative choices. On the surface, Jo—played by the terrific Saoirse Ronan—is considered plain and dowdy, yet within herself is determined to be taken seriously as a writer and struggles to succumb to the conventions of her social milieu to find an ideal suitor. However, Jo is not for want of attention, especially from the wealthy neighbour’s grandson Laurie—Timothee Chalamet—whom she only really perceives with brotherly affection. Jo is torn between attempting to thwart off his heartfelt advances and the need to find her own way in life by obtaining professional publication for her stories in a fierce patriarchal vocation. Pushing Laurie aside also causes feelings of regret within her.
With their father away at war, the March household can become a very excitable and frivolous place. Laurie’s male presence is a welcome relief, and he himself finds sanctuary within the family dynamic from his own stifling conventions living with a well-meaning, kind, yet possessive grandfather as his ward. While the March’s consider themselves poor by their own standards, they are still far better off than most and they are also seen to assist those less fortunate than themselves. They also have a wealthy great aunt, played with matriarchal bravado and dour shrewdness by Meryl Streep. The pity me aspect of this pseudo-poor family is something that is oft criticised as not being “genuine” within Alcott’s tale, but this I see as a minor quibble amongst the larger scheme of things. Jo and her family still struggle through life’s challenges and sufferings.
The youngest sister Amy—played by English actress Florence Pugh—represents her at both stages of her growth. This can appear distracting, as baby faced Pugh does not look that convincing as a 12yr old, yet as the film progresses, she ends up giving perhaps the second best performance in the film after Ronan and is the sister who is often at competitive loggerheads with Jo.
Overall, Little Women is a fine adaptation and boasts some lovely cinematography, a lush score and Oscar® winning costume design. It will be interesting to see what Gerwig comes up with next.
Film review by Darren Cunningham