MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Little Women - In Theaters
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson
It’s been said that every generation needs its own version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1868 novel Little Women. While I have never been a great fan of the book, I have read it at least three times (since it seems to come up fairly often in reading discussion groups). I cannot deny the appeal of this depiction of sisterly love between aspiring author Jo (Ronan), kind-hearted and principled Meg (Watson), artistic Amy (Florence Pugh) and kid-sister and piano-playing Beth (Eliza Scanlon). The four girls are lovingly raised by Marmee (Laura Dern) while Mr. March (Bob Odenkirk) is off fighting in the Civil War. The story is also enriched with memorable characters such as next-door neighbor and love interest Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), Laurie’s widower grandfather (Chris Cooper), Jo’s friend and mentor Professor Bhaer (Louis Garrel) and eccentric but wealthy Aunt March (Meryl Streep).
There is such a wealth of material to develop, filmmakers have been able to craft unique versions that highlight their particular skills, from 1933’s memorable (if somewhat broadly acted) George Cukor film featuring Katherine Hepburn as Jo, 1949’s MGM mega-star version with Elizabeth Taylor, June Allyson, Janet Leigh and Margaret O’Brien, and Gillian Anderson’s lovely 1994 movie with Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, and Christian Bale.
Greta Gerwig has created a work of art that is layered and full of life. The film functions as a memory piece and moves between timelines with grace. While this version highlights Jo, it also allows Jo to serve as a stand-in for Alcott herself. As we watch the story unfold, we also have several meta moments in which we can stand back and think about the creative process itself. (The original book was written in two parts. After Little Women was received with great success in 1868, Alcott wrote Good Wives in 1869 to satisfy her readers’ desire to know more about the March sisters; the two parts were officially combined in 1880). Gerwig’s film stunningly reproduces the relationship between writer and publisher (Tracy Letts) and shows the labor-intensive process of writing itself.
This version also brings us a wonderfully funny, irritating and yet generous Aunt March, a kind and benevolent Mr. Lawrence, and an Amy who can hold her own alongside of Jo. The entire film is gorgeously lensed by Yorick Le Saux, nimbly edited by Nick Houy, and accompanied by a typically melodic Alexandre Desplat score.
Overall, the film’s embrace of sibling friendship as well as the independent spirit of each of the March sisters honors the original novel while also celebrating the ways in which it has inspired others to create their own worlds of imagination. This is a film for all ages, although I would recommend that older children read the book or watch an earlier film version in order to learn the story in a conventional fashion.
Little Women is one of the best films of the year and Greta Gerwig is one great writer-director. I look forward to revisiting this film and to the future book club in which I will read the Alcott book yet once again.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: Love, forgiveness, sacrifice and other Christian virtues are all a part of this classic story of the March sisters.
One pitchfork: The sad ravages of war and disease.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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