Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Little Women

Greta Gerwig becomes the latest to adapt Louisa May Alcott's popular novel (over the years it has been adapted more than a dozen times to film and television as well as both a musical and opera). The semi-autobiographical tale follows the lives of the four March sisters (Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen) following the Civil War.

Saoirse Ronan gets the most screentime as the rebellious Jo, a writer with dreams and desires that don't always fit the conventions of her time. Watson is perhaps underused as the elder and more conventional Meg, while Pugh sinks her teeth into the more complex Amy. Scanlen is put to good use as the tragic and talented Beth. And Timothée Chalamet smolders as the boy next door.

The film is divided into later years with Jo in New York and Amy in Paris with flashbacks to the family all living under the same roof. The structure allows Gerwig to highlight themes that repeat and keep coming back to the tight family unit even after tragedy and time have taken their toll on the March family.

It's in those scenes featuring the March sisters together where the sisters can play off one another, and Laura Dern as their mother, that the film finds its greatest success. Gerwig also assembles a strong supporting cast in Chris Cooper and Meryl Streep, although James Norton comes off a bit bland (which, to be fair, may have as much to do with his character than his acting). The relationship between Cooper and Scanlen is one of my favorites. Set as a period piece, the film does well in recreating the time of the novel on-screen (although it does have some trouble in deciding just how poor the March family should be at times).

After a slow start establishing the various characters and multiple timelines, the film does pick up steam in its second-half. After so many adaptations I'm not sure that Gerwig manages to mine any new meaning out of Alcott's tale. That said, the film is a successful adaption of story that has been strong enough to stay in the public consciousness for more than 150 years. Alcott's themes of morality, Christianity, independence, family, and forgiveness (even when it is hard) are all represented. It should please fans of the novel as well as those being introduced to the story for the first time.

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