It’s a strange thing today where people can’t accept that you merely like a film -- you must love it.
Every year I have movies I adore that other people just think are pretty good or even so-so. “Harriet” is a prime example from 2019. More commonly, films that the consensus of critic and audiences insist are great I find admirable but hardly exceptional.
The most recent Best Picture Oscar winner, “Parasite,” is one of these. Another that many lamented didn’t make a bigger splash during the awards cycle was “Little Women.”
Perhaps it was because I found writer/director Greta Gerwig’s first effort behind the camera, “Lady Bird,” so extravagantly original and vibrant that her follow-up feels like a bit of a letdown. Having her choose as her sophomore effort to make the eighth adaptation of a 150-year-old novel struck me as uninspiring and unchallenging.
What did Gerwig bring to the table that couldn’t be found in the last high-profile adaptation a quarter-century ago with Winona Ryder as the proto-feminist budding writer, Jo March? Nothing that I could see.
The one bit of innovation that others have lauded, Gerwig’s use of parallel storytelling to jump back and forth in time between the first and second sections of the novel by Louisa May Alcott, many found confusing or off-putting.
Saoirse Ronan plays Jo, the headstrong of four daughters of the Marches, a well-regarded but economically struggling family from Concord. Father is away fighting in the Civil War, mother Marmee (Laura Dern) is saintly and supportive, eldest child Meg (Emma Watson) is in a hurry to marry, youngest Amy (Florence Pugh) feels overshadowed by Jo and the pure-hearted Beth (Eliza Scanlen) loves music and is destined to die.
(Sorry, no spoiler warnings extend back as far as 1868.)
Next door live the wealthy Laurences, with Chris Cooper as the stern patriarch whose heart softens in friendship to the Marches. Timothée Chalamet plays his grandson, Laurie, a spoiled brat who the March girls go ga-ga over. Laurie pitches his woo at Jo, who haughtily refuses in order to pursue her ambitions as a writer in New York... though things have a way of turning.
This is a gorgeous-looking film, filled with bright faces and colorful costumes and tables heaped with glistening food. (Though one keeps wondering exactly how indigent the Marches really are.)
“Little Women” is a well-made film with an engaging cast. It’s also the sort of movie where characters tend to just speak the underlying themes of the movie rather than acting them out and letting us come around on our own. For me that’s an easy line to draw between the merely good and truly exemplary.
Video extras are quite nice, consisting of six making-of featurettes:
- “A New Generation of Little Women”
- “Making a Modern Classic”
- “Greta Gerwig: Women Making Art”
- “Hair & Make-Up Test Sequence”
- “Little Women Behind the Scenes”
- “Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott”