Review - Little Women

Nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress, Best Actress and Best Picture.

Little Women was originally a book by Louisa May Alcott written in the 19th century and due to how beloved it is, it's been adapted many times. It was made with Katharine Hepburn in 1933, with Winona Ryder in 1994 and turned into a miniseries just three years ago with Maya Hawke. Now though, Greta Gerwig (writer and director of Lady Bird) has delivered her interpretation on the novel and it is an utter delight to behold. I'll confess, I'm entirely unfamiliar with the story. I've never read the book and I've never seen another adaptation, so all comparisons I make exist because I've had changes explained to me by other, more knowledgeable people. Anyway, it is the story of the March sisters, told over two different time frames, seven years apart. In the first, the American Civil War still rages and the titular women are all teenagers, discovering their world. In the second though, they are separated, only brought back together by a family tragedy. The story itself is compelling but what makes it genius is how these two time frames are weaved together, cutting between the two as if they're separated by moments, not years. To my knowledge, this hasn't been done in any other adaptation and it gives the story a vitality. Film is a medium of comparison and contrast, it's why editing works (I'll spare you the lecture on Soviet Montage I could give), so to compare moments across time creates a power that is almost overwhelming. Put simply, the story is good but the way it's handled and presented is what makes it genius.
If you see an actor in this movie, they are acting their socks off.
As with Lady Bird before it, Greta Gerwig is able to bring out brilliant performances from every member of her cast, especially those titular small ladies. First up is Meg March, played by Emma Watson. Like so many other people, I grew up on her work in the Harry Potter franchise but I've never seen her wow me like this before. She's still probably the least remarkable of these lil' gals but is undoubtedly a delight. Next we have Eliza Scanlen as Beth March. She was great in the miniseries Sharp Objects, holding her own against powerhouse actresses Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson and just like there, despite not having the largest role of the film, she shines in all the moments she is given. Getting to the Oscar nominees though, we have Florence Pugh as Amy March. I've been an utter obsessive since I saw The Little Drummer Girl back at the 2018 London Film Festival and while I think she may be better in Midsommar, she is still sensational here. Apparently Amy is usually one of the most disliked characters in this story but Pugh breathes a joyousness into the role. One scene with a plaster mould makes me grin ear to ear just thinking about it, all because of her. The final of the March sisters is Jo March, played by the ever reliable Saoirse Ronan. She too is a joy, being loud and boisterous when needed but relaying the sensitivity like it's her second nature, making me believe in the character so much that I become convinced that I am in fact this woman living in Boston during the American Civil War. Even aside from these sisters, we find incredible performances. Timothée Chalamet plays Laurie with an energy that makes you fight through his despicable moments to love him, Laura Dern is the mum we all wish we had (unless you're me, because my mum is perfect) as a superbly restrained Marmee and Chris Cooper uses his incredible facial hair to hide a character with a gentle soul. Some of these performances feel performed (if that makes sense), but that never detracted from the experience for me. So many of these characters are people living in daily performances, meaning a performativity adds to their charm instead of subtracting from it. To put this all much more simply, if you see an actor in this movie, they are acting their socks off, pushing their considerable ranges to their limits.

So many joyous technical aspects to talk through, so little time! Let us start with the score, seeing as that's what I have blasting while I'm writing this. It is fab. It's the kind of score that absolutely evokes the period setting, yet does so without feeling crusty. Plus, like all the performers, when required to change gears from joyous to mournful and anywhere in between, it does so without missing a beat. I have but two complaints about it. First, I don't love it quite as much as I adore the score for Lady Bird, but the composers are different and I've had more time to fall in love with Jon Brion's work than I have with Alexandre Desplat. Second, the album has the tracks out of order. It's ridiculous, I've had to find a playlist that properly orders them to truly return to that feeling of the film, but this issue has little to do with the film itself so again, not really relevant, just a small bug bear. The cinematography too is divine. You may remember in my Oscars prediction post that I singled out the cinematography of Little Women and on a rewatch, its brilliance became even more pronounced. While a simple trick, the two time frames of the story are given different colour palates, which not only help distinguish the periods but also convey the emotional differences between the two times, of the growth and loss that are two sides of the same mountain. Finally, quick praise should also go to the costume and production designers. I know very little about these aspects but they're crafts that, when mastered, work because they are barely noticed by the audience. I was never paying attention to the set design or the costumes of the characters because they were simply the world they lived in and the clothes they wore, meaning that the teams did incredible jobs from start to finish.
As I begin watching, I try and analyse it, keeping my critical faculties alive and active before I am suddenly side swept by this feeling, [...] the moment when you realise you are helplessly head over heels in love.
When I saw Lady Bird, I was totally floored by it. It came at a time when I had just been through many of the events Lady Bird had and I loved it so much that it was pretty much the sole reason I visited Sacramento over the Christmas break. Still to this day, it resonates and I'm proud of the review I wrote (which remains one of the most popular things I've ever written, thanks again for reading my work). Why am I bringing this up? I suppose there's a handful of reasons, chief of which is that I still feel guilty for being belittling of Gerwig's directorial ability, although I also mention Lady Bird because it was the kind of directorial debut that stops you dead in your tracks. Watching it, you can't help but think "Great work Greta, but surely it's only downhill from here". Yet again, I was buffoonish and wrong, as Little Women is a stone cold masterpiece. I've seen it twice now and both times, the experience was like watching one of my favourite films of recent years, Call Me By Your Name. As I begin watching, I try and analyse it, keeping my critical faculties alive and active before I am suddenly side swept by this feeling of pure ecstasy. If you love films, you know this feeling, the moment when you realise you are helplessly head over heels in love with the world you are currently inhabiting. The film progresses and sorrow comes into the picture, but you walk away from the film feeling utterly buoyant, lighter than air (though it's worth noting Little Women is a much more feel good film than CMBYN). To compare my emotional and cerebral reactions, I go there, but to compare my physical reactions, I would look to Marriage Story. Both of these films wrung tears out of me like I was a wet flannel, with Little Women especially having me leak like a faulty tap for the entire last forty minutes. Each time I watched this film, I was sobbing in multiple scenes and I think the final shot of the film (whose sheer joy makes me blubber like a baby) is as close to heaven as any cinema of the last 12 months has gotten. Greta Gerwig, if you're reading this (and seriously, if you are reading this, do you not have better things to be doing? Write more amazing films!) then I offer three gifts: my apologies on being such a snob before, my anger at becoming so dehydrated because of you and my congratulations, on making a film that is sheer cinematic perfection.
Little Women is all I have ever wanted from cinema.
Shit, I haven't played my cards very close to my chest, have I? It's true, I am in full blown love with this film. With the way characters dance out of sight, with the silly accents and exaggerated gestures of the sisters, with the way Jo is a character I both want in my life and identify with to a terrifying degree. Every single thing about this film, I wish I could marry. If you're the kind of person who has steered away from this film because it seems like a film for the ladies, I have nothing to say to you other than stop being such a dick. This is a film for anyone whose heart beats, whose mouth smiles and whose eyes water. Little Women is all I have ever wanted from cinema, which means I simply have no choice other than to give it a


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