Friday, January 24, 2020

Movie Review of Greta Gerwig's Little Women: A View through the Eyes of a A Male High School Film Critic on this Remade Classic

by Ashton Samson
Little Women 2019 Review: Greta Gerwig Brilliantly Captures the World of Louisa May Alcott's Novel, All While Creating a New One for 2019
For as long as I can remember, it has been a personal goal of mine to read Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 classic, Little Women, not only because of the many glowing reviews that the book has received, but also because I have always thought that in discussions with others who had read the novel, I would later be able to offer my perspective, which might be considered unique because I am a fifteen-year old male. 
Over the years, I have heard nothing but the highest acclaim from Alcott’s many vehement fans. They have stated that the novel is so beloved because of its brilliantly crafted characters, swift pace and enduring themes and messages that have touched women and men alike since its publication. Amazingly the novel has never been out of print and in elementary schools, it is the most frequently read work of literature, statistically exceeding even the Bible. Most recently, in anticipation of the upcoming film, I finally had the chance to read the novel and found it to be one of the most enjoyable and heartwarming books I have ever read.
There was, however, one issue that struck me at the end of the novel, which many of Alcott’s fans have touched on as well. The principal character, Jo March, is a tomboyish girl who spends the whole novel defying traditional rules placed upon women in society at the time, chiefly among them, the idea that women should marry well because they can’t make their own way in the world without a wealthy spouse. Jo chooses to follow her own heart and write short stories and novels in an attempt to publish them, instead of marrying, thus making her own way in the world. She stands by this decision until the very end of the novel, when she chooses to sacrifice her greatest passion of writing and marry a young man named Friedrich Bhaer, seemingly abandoning her highest of ideals. 

For me, this was a heartbreaking reveal because after being such a progressive novel, that attempted to change societal norms for women, Alcott has Jo get married in an immensely cheesy ending, like something out of a rom-com. When I researched this issue a bit more, I discovered that this wasn’t the ending that Alcott intended for her novel.

Although she personally defied societal norms as a single woman, who didn’t have any children and was an author, she couldn’t give her heroine the same ending, because it just wouldn’t sell to the general public in 1868. Greta Gerwig, brilliant director of 2017’s masterpiece, Lady Bird, knew that in 2019, the original ending that Alcott had in mind would definitely sell and therefore went about creating the Little Women that everyone has craved for and imagined for the last 151 years. In doing so, she created an adaptation that is better than the novel. Gerwig manages to perfectly recreate the world that Alcott painted so distinctly with her novel, all while adding the necessary push for the conclusion that the prolific author envisioned for a new, more progressive world. 
She uses her magnificent ensemble consisting of, but not limited to, Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet and Meryl Streep to recreate the world Alcott imagined with such great precision, it is difficult to think of anyone else portraying these lovable characters. Each of them inhabit their roles with great accuracy and awareness of the source material.
Although I have only seen one of the many other adaptations (the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn), it has been noted that this 2019 adaptation does the best job at staying true to the story. Through their complete devotion to their roles and sharp focus of sticking as close to the novel as possible, these talented actors literally embody the characters whom they are portraying. 

While the entire cast does an exceptional job with their characters, the standouts are Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet. Their on-screen chemistry is exceptional. In 2016, in preparation for their work on Lady Bird, the two met and spent much time together, eventually becoming great friends. In both Lady Bird and Little Women, it is easy to see that such incredible chemistry could only have sprung from a real-life friendship. Their acting is so genuine, raw with emotion and realistic that it seems as if they aren’t really acting at all and are just going about their daily lives, which is an impeccable accomplishment for an actor. 

As I have stated above, Gerwig is immensely faithful to the novel, more so than any other director, right up until the film’s conclusion, when she brilliantly displays the two universes that one woman could have side by side - the sappy, romantic one where Jo marries and “lived happily ever after”, in order to conform to society, like the book publisher wanted, and the real one that Louisa May Alcott indeed lived and would have wanted for her character Jo.
We all know which choice for Jo was absolutely necessary and Gerwig gave her the key to unlock her freedom, which was imperative now more than ever. As I left the theater, I imagined this film as a heartfelt love letter from Gerwig to her sisters and those everywhere, who sympathize with them today. However, the best part was something she plucked from one of Alcott’s earlier novels, Rose in Bloom, and it perfectly sums up the message that needed to be conveyed all along.

“Women, they have minds and they have souls as well as just hearts. And they've got ambition, and they've got talent, as well as just beauty. I'm so sick of saying love is all a woman is fit for.

Ashton Samson is the newest film critic for 
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All photos courtesy Little Women Movie Facebook