Little Women – Film Review
by Phoebe Moore
Director: Greta Gerwig
Writers: Greta Gerwig, Louisa May Alcott (based on the novel by)
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet
[Contains mild Spoilers]
Greta Gerwig’s hotly anticipated adaptation of Little Women boasts a nauseatingly impressive cast ranging from Laura Dern of Big Little Lies to Saoirse Ronan who plays the headstrong and independent protagonist Jo, modelled on Louisa May Alcott herself. The relationship between protagonist and author is heavily drawn upon in this film making for a teasingly ambiguous ending; Jo March’s destiny is intertwined with Alcott’s reality, offering two possible but very different alternatives. Much like the readers of Alcott’s book found in 1868, the more romantic ending dangled like a brightly wrapped Christmas present tied up in a neat bow seems infinitely more satisfactory even today. It seems the themes that Alcott dealt with in her novel many years ago are not yet buried in contemporary society.
Following the lives of the four March sisters Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth through life, love and heartbreak, Gerwig thankfully manages to rescue the film from its fate of saccharine ‘coming of age’ tale. By switching frequently between time and place, while discombobulating at certain moments, she manages to keep the tale rapidly moving forward, consistently contrasting moments of childhood innocence to harsher adult life. Sometimes bordering on the sentimental, this portrayal of sisterhood and poverty in rural Massachusetts on a backdrop of the civil war along with a dash of old fashioned morality is sumptuously contrasted with stylistic cinematography and epic costuming. Wardrobe mistress Jacqueline Durran’s aesthetic choices encompass fine ball gowns and enviably quirky threads for the literary heroine Jo.
The ‘frivolous’ March sister Amy played wonderfully by Florence Pugh manages to embody a recognisable conundrum for women; the urge to ‘have’ as well as the urge to ‘do’. A true modern day guilty feminist. She wants love, fine things and an easy life but she also wants to pursue her dreams of making art in a male dominated sphere, “I want to be an artist in Rome and be the best painter in the world”. In this fantastically drawn character the materialistic younger ‘brat’ who exasperates her older sister Jo – who harbours feminist superiority syndrome- in her shallow “crass” ways is made more nuanced by the wise young woman that she becomes. She sees society as it is and in a memorable scene she unequivocally spells out the facts of life to Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), a wealthy childhood friend who urges her not to marry for money but to follow her dreams. A romantic idea which is all very well for him to say: he is reminded that her dreams of being an artist are governed by economics and that marriage does not escape this either. It is nothing more than an economic transaction, to pretend otherwise is fanciful. Life is not a rom-com she seems to say and nor is this film despite its warmth, tenderness and abundance of beautiful people.