My sister and mother have been wanting to see Little Women for ages. So as a family we finally rented it and gave it a go, and like star Saoirse Ronan’s other recent starring-role dramas, Brooklyn & Lady Bird, it’s a deep and appreciative take on people just like you and me, differences between timelines and background supporting the connection even further.
The movie opens up with a quote from Louisa May Alcott, author of the book this movie is based on: “I’ve had lots of troubles, so I write jolly tales.” Little Women has been put on the big screen multiple times, including a lost silent film from 1917, so you can guess it’s a beloved novel.
The March family that is apparently in a “jolly tale” is composed of four young women, a mother named Marmee (Laura Dern) and a maid named Hannah (Jayne Houdyshell), plus a father out fighting in the army in the midst of the Civil War, and he’s able to get letters out about once a month. One of the sisters, Jo (Ronan) is in New York pitching a story “a friend of hers” wrote to a publisher who, like some of my old journalism professors, is perfectly fine with crossing out complete pages to shorten and simplify to the point of plain unmagical skinniness. We are then introduced to her three sisters, Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen), as well as a long-time neighbour and childhood friend named Laurie, who just happens to be male (Timothee Chalamet), and how every one of them has to navigate the perils of marriage and growing up in a world filled with discriminatory expectations of them. They all get by finance-wise but no matter how you slice it, wealthy isn’t the same as happy, especially when your views tend to not be respected.
What I like about director Greta Gerwig the most is she not only effortlessly tackles ideas with honesty and sincerity, she clearly feels for the dreams and conflicts of these four girls as adulthood comes at them like a wildfire.
There are some movies out there where you feel the premise is just made for you. Now, I don’t want to oversell here; I know there are many out there who will relate on a much more personal level to this movie than I. But it’s the fact all four of them have artistic dreams; Jo wants to be a writer, Meg wants to be an actress, Amy wants to be a painter and Beth wants to be a musician (primarily a pianist), and the fact they all feel their desires just don’t fit with the world they live in, and some have just abandoned their hope long ago of really making it in the world, is just so relatable to me. I operated a website on Weebly for five years (which is still up, though I unsubscribed from my expense status) where I reviewed hundreds of movies and books, and I got the impression thousands visited my site a week, but it turns out there was a glitch that spiked my view-count for years until it was fixed behind my back and I got a rude awakening. Also, I love being an entertainment critic because I love sharing my views, but I also want to be a part of the worlds I talk about; like Jo and Meg, I want to be a famous author and actor. But I feel self-doubt all the time for so many reasons, both direct and subtle. I’ve also had many friends over the years who wanted to be something art-related during primary school but couldn’t keep committed. Seeing how much all these artists wrestled with themselves was definitely heart-wrenching. And when a work of their art is deliberately destroyed by another sister, there’s punches that are thrown, and I felt not only was I there, but I was the one throwing them and perhaps damaging my sisterhood forever.
I also love Jo’s arc about how society doesn’t value women and she doesn’t want to fall under a life chosen for her which she feels she’ll be unhappy in. It’s a timeless premise of how everyone deserves to carve their own path in life. The movie also doesn’t completely shun the idea of marriage being a road to happiness. Like The Lego Movie, which embraced creativity and following instructions without taking the full side of either, this movie talks about the possible ups and downs of being with a man, and it never feels preachy nor condescending to literally anyone at all.
I realize a lot of my compliments have to do with the story, which is itself based off an outside book, so I should talk more about the filmmaking. But first of all, it’s one thing to have an idea, it’s another on pulling it off in a way that makes you connect with it. Second, in terms of the performances, sets and direction, Gerwig is so talented it all seems sophisticated yet natural as air. There’s a lot she’s able to show without having to tell as the actors give completely believable and beautiful performances, there’s some genius foreshadowing, and she takes her time to give the four star performers different stories, and we connect with all of them as the film moves along.
I will admit the movie is a little overlong by about 20 minutes, noticeable by a few unnecessarily false endings as things conclude. It was one of those “Okay, looks like we’re done, that was very g – oh, it’s still going, okay. Now is it – no? Alrighty.” Also, there are transitions between different timelines which sometimes feel there would’ve been better places to switch up. There’s a character death, and then we see this character in the past instantly, which felt anti-climactic. Lastly, because of its long running time, I do feel it does not scream out multiple viewings. Once is fine enough.
All in all, though, Little Women put me in a terrific mood. It is a story about personal troubles we all go through, and is not just handled with vibrant directing, but relatable mirroring emotion that keeps us invested.
If you like this, I’d try: Brooklyn, Lady Bird, and the movie adaptation of The Goldfinch