'Little Women' Film Review
For those close to me it will be no surprise I've had trouble blogging lately. Perhaps it's been the writer's block, more likely the crippling impostor syndrome that's followed me ever since I stared Martin Scorsese in the face. While obviously cliche, I suppose it's rather sweet that Jo March would be the one to instigate my return to writing, and while I should be writing essays at the moment Little Women has me compelled to shout my praise from the rooftops. This is the decade's last cinematic masterpiece.
This is the fourth time Alcott's novel has been adapted for the big screen, but Little Women's adaptations offer audiences more than just nostalgia; each film uses the text to explore contemporary ideas. Here, Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig makes two bold adjustments to the narrative; she implements a dual timeline and re-frames Amy March as a lovable girl instead of a materialistic, 'spoiled brat'. The film's flashback structure offers a blunt commentary on the aspirational delusions of childhood, but Gerwig's approach to Little Women also provides audiences with a timely critique of modern feminism.
Let's begin with Meg, who this time is played by UN Ambassador Emma Watson. The character finds herself at odds with Saoirse's Jo who doesn't want her sister to be consumed by the confines of marriage. Meg's response to Jo's concern reveals Little Women's core philosophy; Meg explains that "just because [her] dreams are different to [Jo's] doesn't mean they're unimportant."
Indeed, the way in which the modern feminist movement demonizes women who aspire towards marriage and motherhood has been it's biggest fault. While Jo's stance on marriage is one of contemporary defiance, she must learn throughout this film that following love doesn't necessarily mean giving in; it is a woman's ability to choose that makes the difference. Gerwig's casting of Watson to deliver this message is particularly notable, too.
Be it through her definitive depiction of Hermione Granger (everyone's favourite wiccan activist) or in her recent work with the United Nations in the realm of gender-equality, Watson has become one of the central forces and figureheads in the modern feminist movement. While initially critiqued for her so-called 'white feminist stance', Watson has consistently uplifted the voices of both black and trans-women and proudly identifies as an intersectional activist. Still, the feminism she represents is too often dismissed as man-hating, and while Jo explores the struggle for independence it is Watson's Meg who presents the movement's other ideological pillar - the liberating power of choice.
Florence Pugh (of Midsommar fame) takes on the role of Amy, the March sister who many disregard as self-centred. Pugh infuses the character with tenderness, charm and comedy, with some of the film's biggest laughs coming from her exquisite delivery. Little Women's exploration of feminism suggests that Amy's 'delicate femininity' is powerful and valid in its own right, and in doing so it retroactively re-frames the character's previous receptions. Gerwig asks audiences whether their disdain for Amy March is completely deserving; have we, as movie-goers, been (wrongly) taught that her femininity is something to be sneered at? Amy is also granted agency through her practical approach to marriage, and watching her struggle to balance this against the brutal ferocity of love offers the character gorgeous nuance.
Every great director has their muse; Scorsese has DiCaprio, Anderson has Murray and Burton has Johnny Depp. Greta Gerwig, ever the over-achiever, seems to be fostering two concurrent muses; Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet prove as enigmatic as ever. Both are proving to be the greatest actors of their generation and it's a treat to witness their on-screen chemistry for the first time since 2017's Lady Bird.
Chalamet's Laurie is, ultimately, the film's fifth lead, and Gerwig's playful approach to the heart-throb's androgyny allows for an effective dissection of the 'romantic lead'. Jo often exchanges her stays for men's clothing while Laurie dons floaty blouses designed with a female body in mind. Laurie is this film's only pining-lover, a role typically reserved for female characters, and these details serve as a subtle, visual reminder of Jo's unconventional resistance.
Eliza Scanlan (Sharp Objects) takes on the role of Beth in a breath-takingly emotive performance, but I would argue that Alexandre Desplat (the composer behind Little Women's score) also helps to portray the character. Known for her musical flair, Beth never finds herself too far from the keys of a piano. Because of this, much of her screen time is spent accompanied by its melodic tunes - the instrument provides a natural accompaniment to much of the film. With risk of spoiling a 150-year old narrative I won't delve too far into why, but the piano eventually becomes Little Women's defining musical core, and Desplat's marvelous work helps drive home some of the film's most powerful moments.
Little Women doesn't just sound amazing - it looks the part as well. Gerwig marinades the screenplay in her glorious visual style, making the film as cosy and inviting as a crackling, winter fire. While I enjoyed 1994's Little Women, the only other version of the film I've seen, Gerwig's adaptation is already on its way to becoming an untouchable Christmas classic.
This film isn't a dismissal of modern feminism, it's a call-to-arms for its progression in an age of relative stagnancy - it's a powerful call for the movement's re-calibration.
It's not about prizes, but Gerwig's Little Women deserves to clean-sweep during awards season, and the best part is that she's only two films into her career. This is staggering stuff.
Written by James Green