Movie reviews by
3 ½ (out of 4)
Literary classics prove their status by sustaining their stature rather than diminishing as years pass. Some only become immortal when cinema tries to realize their essence to both remind the acquainted and demonstrate to the unaware what was so powerful about the characters, situations and subjects in the first place.
So Little Women isn’t Shakespeare or Pride and Prejudice, but Louise May Alcott’s treasured story has had many an adaptation in its day – George Cukor directed Katherine Hepburn in the 1933 version, there's one from the 50s with Elizabeth Taylor and the 1994 reiteration starring Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder surely stands out in today’s consciousness. Just after last year’s reviled modern take marked the 150th anniversary of the novel’s publishing, Greta Gerwig was already out tailoring the defining film version of the story – with talent like Laura Dern and Meryl Streep in support, it was not shocking that her telling would play out as the absolute, unbeatable attempt. Before I use up the rest of this space as a further expression of my reverence for Gerwig, let me get rid of my gripes and point out the remote extent to which she’s sullying her bright, sunny new career.
While her romantic partner Noah Baumbach is scraping the highest artistic highs of his storytelling vitality with Marriage Story (his 10th original film in an ever-mounting, remarkably homespun career), Gerwig has already turned down the easier avenue following her tenderly crafted breakthrough debut Lady Bird in 2017. After bearing her soul with an autobiographical inception to a filmography it makes sense that she would gravitate toward recreating a famously personal near-nonfiction masterwork. But when the story movements are already laid out for you, the trimmings on top – the tastefully stylish camerawork, savory mise en scène, gorgeous Alexandre Desplat score, the uniformly superb performances – aren’t quite as meaningful as they might be in something drawn from scratch.
Still, my god, the icing overtop this proven recipe is incredibly rich and even the substance itself is excellent and flavorful in ways you would not anticpate. Gerwig has the instinct to reexamine Little Women through a deviating narrative lens, redefining the parameters and rhythms of Alcott’s reflection of her own deprived Civil War-era upbringing. The adapted text has an insistent equilibrium of whimsy and melodrama courtesy of Alcott’s crocheted realism but Gerwig’s temporal hopscotching in her script demonstrates every internal conflict of the March sisters by juxtaposing a perfect past with a faded future. The color scheme (warm hues offset by blue tones) informs this rift in time between the good old days and an uncertain present, invoking a well-illustrated nostalgia and longing.
The zig-zagging nonlinear direction takes the tale in halves and works through them diligently and thoroughly, refusing to let the unannounced transitions through adolescence fail to inform the distance between the simple, fixed memories of youth and the more immediate trepidations of early adulthood. By utilizing methodical editing as a pick to unlock the more cinematic feelings of Little Women’s endurance, Gerwig’s hand also reconsiders Alcott through her distinct emphasis on awkward, restless naturalism, giving her adaptation an accessibly modern flavor despite the beaming, excited acting and textured production and costume design. It’s not as memorable or drastic as Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite or Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, but Little Women finds Gerwig exercising a singular, resonant voice through a beloved feminist period template.
Until a new fashioning of Emma arrives in February, Gerwig’s classically composed drama will remain the lit-head's movie of the moment, burning with the appetite of a revisionist eye and the inherent intent of Alcott’s wit and wariness. I was worried Little Women would fail to exceed a sense of irrelevance, functioning as a vehicle for Gerwig to secure her career for safer, businesslike goals rather than artistic ones. Pleasantly, it's just about effortless to forget any hesitations while watching, though that is to say I dearly hope she formulates her own fictions as she goes forward. With a clarifying understanding and appreciation for the source, there’s nothing but the rewards of superlative adaptation to appreciate from Gerwig’s second feature. Is it even worth bringing up that Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamat, Emma Watson, Chris Cooper, Dern and Streep are without flaw? Because of course they are.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Invisible Man
and overdue takes on
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice