Little Women (2019) – An Old Story Comes Alive

I finally saw this and I wasn’t disappointed! A modern classic for sure and Greta Gerwig should have gotten a nomination for Best Director!

Although I have to admit that Little Women got the Best Costume only because it was a period drama, not because the costumes are accurate or trying to be fully of the period. They were fine, good on character, but lack in historical accuracy (the ’94 movie is better with it) of the times the books are set. I can understand why they did it (relatability) but it still doesn’t mean they are good, at least they aren’t distractingly bad unless you have an eye for those things (there were some hidden zippers that I saw). So, I just wanted to get that out of the way. Amy though was the best dressed in every sense, which was perfect for her character.

As for the movie. It is so good. So comfy, so familiar, yet done in such a new way! Definitely one of my favourite films watched in 2020 in terms of making me feel in my heart, while Parasite fuelled my analysis and intellectual side. This is a nice balance after seeing it before seeing Little Women.

Summary:

Late 1860s America. Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy are adults going on their lives. Jo is trying to have her stories published when her sister takes ill. On the journey from New York home Jo starts remembering her childhood, as fiction mixes with memories and maybe with reality as well.

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In my family it is a known fact that my mother absolutely loves Little Women the same way most young people love different fandoms now-a-days. She had read the book over 10 times, maybe 20, growing up and absolutely loved it! Maybe in another universe she would have taken the opportunity to name one of her children, maybe me, after one of the Little Women characters — I suspect Jo would have been one she might have gone for — she would have done it had she realised she could have or just taken the opportunity to do it.

She is in a way more in to this than I was, as I personally grew up with the ’94 film with Winona Ryder as Jo and also saw and fell in love with the 2017 BBC miniseries. I remember reading the Classics Illustrated book from my school library being the very first experience reading it, not that it was the full book and I suspect it might have been edited or censored in some cases, but it left an impression. Personally I saw myself as a mix of Amy and Jo, with young artistry when I was young and being spoiled, which I admit I still am a bit, and only later have I realised I am also a bit like Jo with my writing, staying up all night to do it, reading, always wanting to know more and having quite the temper if push comes to shove before low blood sugar levels. My mother has always loved Jo and I can see why, while I’ve always been sympathetic to Amy (never hating her with fury as some people have). So, that’s the context of my own childhood and myself essentially within this movie.

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So to the movie! It is a classic in the making and a masterpiece for this generation of women. I’ve read some reviews, mainly from women, who thought the Feminism (TM) was too on the nose, meaning it leans in to the thought of it, rather than actually being Feminist or understanding what it means.

My opinion on that is that I am absolutely fine with the way they handled the Feminism then and now in the film, since the same problems still plague us and if it seems tiring or pandering then it should be blamed on the system that is still making us ask these questions and not to blame the director/writer or even Louisa May Alcott herself. As long as these things are problems in certain societies; women marrying for money to support their families, women sacrificing their own desires for their family, women having to choose either being spinsters (or single women) in the eyes of society that is built on marriage as if it is a lifesaver when it can easily turn sour or just not be right, loneliness and companionship even without love, women not being valued for their mind, but only for their looks and what they can give a man or have their only life being one of supporting not leading or having a life outside of “marriage” which is a hollow bond if everyone is miserable in it. But society expects these things still and as long as they have to be said I am completely fine with this movie saying it, because it shows that these things are still a problem and not talking about them or ignoring them is not a way to solve them, let alone not letting women have their own voice in the matter.

I should also mention the male characters here are well made. No one is truly a villain or evil, they are complex with their own problems, but it is in the end the women who are in the forefront, as they should be. Laurie is a free spirit who misplaces his affections and grows up. John Brooke is a romantic and almost too perfect in a little bit boring way. Hot Professor Bhaer is a feast for the eyes and an intellectual, kind, awkward and a treat for the eyes of anyone who comes to see the film. (Gerwig said she made Bhaer, because male directors often put gorgeous women in glasses and called them plain so she is pulling that with him and I am all the more happier for it!)

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And now to the actual review! Sorry it took so long I just had to make my case in the matter above clear. First, I don’t know who these lazy reviewers are who couldn’t realise the time jumps between past and future, because they would have to be blind or prejudiced about the movie when they saw it. The past is showered with warm yellows, sunlight, bright colours and the girl’s hair is up or Jo’s hair is cut. It is a happy place, this past, or memory full of nostalgia and life tinged with something we miss. The future or present is in realistic cold hues full of blues, whites and the little women’s hairs are up in hairstyles and the dresses are wider.

It is an easy thing to see so I have to wonder what the others saw to make them so confused about a story that is 150 years old and widely known, but I suppose that is the curse of male reviewers watching a female driven film. Something always has to be at fault, because a movie about women is far too boring and sentimental for their male hearts who feel nothing and pump only beer instead of blood (I am being sarcastic here). I should not, my Dad was the only man in a theatre full of women to see this film. So yeah, to say that I am proud to have him as my Dad is an understatement to say the least knowing thousands of men who refuse to see it for their pride, while there are those who don’t dare to, because of what they think society will think of them if others find out they went to see this and cried. Sorry, a bit of a tangent, but this movie has me writing like Jo late at night by her candle while I am writing this at night by the light of a lamp.

This is in the end a heartfelt movie. You know the plot points, you know what is going to happen, yet it is done so well it still hits you. The part that hit me personally was when Amy burns Jo’s book. That is when the movie got me and didn’t let go. As a writer it hurts, but also the sisterly rivalry and fights are familiar. In fact I’d say this movie get’s the fact that ALL the sister’s matter and they act like sisters to each other, not archetypes whose lives end when the story is not focused on Jo. All get their share in the story and it is marvellous, a whole person unfolds before us.

Saorise Ronan is a fantastic Jo. She has the spirit, gawkiness, awkwardness and relatability of her humanly anger. She pulls out a fantastic performance that makes her the best Jo in my mind to date. Emma Watson as Beth is fine, though her accent does slip noticeably a couple of time and her lack of chemistry with James Norton’s John Brooke is also not well, she has more chemistry with Timothée Chalamet’s Laurie in her scenes with him than she has with her characters actual husband in the film. Her scenes are short so the movie doesn’t suffer much. Eliza Scanlen’s Beth is perfectly sweet, but by no means a paragon of virtue, she has patience, is shy and kind, but clearly she knows all this herself and the film knows along with the audience of her inevitable fate and with the structure her death hits like a cannonball to the tear ducts.

And then there’s Florence Pugh’s Amy which is by far my favourite out of them all! She makes Amy a dreamer who turns pragmatist who flourishes in high society, yet dreads and knows her limits within them and knows how to play it, but still has a heart. Her and Laurie’s love story is built from the start and it is nice to see it blossom perfectly and then makes people who hated her wonder why they hated her when she and Laurie are perfect together. All the scenes with the sisters feel like they are sisters with their bickering, teasing over each other, chemistry and closeness.

In the end this is a lovely movie meant to hit you in the heart. Yes, it might not be the perfect linear adaption or even perfect adaptation of the book (Aunt March here is a single woman who never married, while in the books she is known to have married, is a widow and even had a daughter who died). It gets the point of the book, women’s suffrage and that domestic life is important and worthy of respect in the eyes of society. In the end it is about how women don’t belong in a box or shouldn’t be in a box in the first place and if she chooses a life or way to make her path it should be her choice, not any expectations of the society. That is why this book is still loved now and why so many adaptations have been made of it in the first place and why this is a certified classic!

As someone who has had problems in the past these movies are a darling escape as well as a catharsis along with tragedies (I am sorry if this gets too personal) that make me feel like I am alive, even if the only emotion I can muster is either pure childlike happiness or sorrow full of tears that have been kept at bay for too long. It is ok to feel and I love this movie for making me come to terms with it, especially Jo’s conversation with Marmee about her anger issues. That hit me hard.

My mother cried and a girl next to me was crying five minutes in to the movie, I don’t know if she saw it for the first time or the tenth, but it effected her and it effected me. Life, emotions, love, hate all those are universal, no matter what movie you watch, but these kinds of movies, they remind me  — and especially this movie — that it is all right to feel the things you do. And a life is worth living if it is made up of your own choices and not societies who built the walls they themselves wall people inside of and then pretend they dont exist.

Thank you for reading! 

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