Now, if you know anything about me, my opinions on Little Women are, well...pretty strong. I have watched so many adaptations of it, and it has always been a part of my life. So when a new version of it comes out, I am going to go over it with a fine tooth comb. Want to know my thoughts about the most recent adaptation (2019 - Saorise Ronan, Timothée Chalamet)? Read on! Don't want spoilers? Maybe wait until you've seen it.
- Right from the start, you can tell this is going to be different. We start, not at the March household, but centered on Jo trying to get a story published. There is a simple shot of her fingers, twisting together in anxiety, ink-stained. This says a lot about her instantly, and isn't the "clean and proper" image we have from previous versions. It's a bit more honest.
- And the pressure of marriage is instantly obvious. When the publisher mentions that if she writes a story centered on a woman, that that woman should end up either married, or dead, by the end...well, that tells you a lot about how Jo would have felt boxed in at the time (and many other women did too).
- Oh! They've done this in reverse...this is the second half of Jo's story that we start with - she is at the boarding house in New York. Hmm...I often don't like when they do that with films, but we'll see. Sometimes it works quite well. It definitely makes it not feel like a carbon copy of previous versions.
- Ah Amy, the oft-hated sister. She is humanized right away. Greta Gerwig has already shown us subtly who both Amy and Jo are, without using any words. Amy, in the middle of painting, looks at the painting of the person next to her, and then looks back at her own, critical and disappointed. Her insecurities are plainly seen. Aunt March brings up the topic of marriage to her not long after this brief scene, and it is clearly more important to her aunt than her painting accomplishments are.
- Amy's childish glee at seeing Laurie instantly makes you understand her love for him goes way back. He compliments her looks and she brushes it off - something the vain, childhood Amy we all know wouldn't have done. She would have soaked it in.
- Meg, you can see her easily impressionable nature - wanting things to make her happy and allowing herself to be swayed, and yet feeling guilt almost right away. Her scene is very short...not given the time to develop like both Jo and Amy.
- Beth only gets an instant. She is tired and playing the piano. There is no reason why I would connect to her at all yet. This feels like a disservice, even more so than to Meg.
- And now we are in the past. Although the interactions between Jo and Laurie are sweet, they are almost too comfortable and familiar with each other right away. Honestly, even a few more minutes of conversation would have helped. I suspect either this is from editing, or just the easy nature of Saoirse and Timothée's friendship.
- Marmee is instantly softer in this one. Instead of being stern with some softness, she laughs a little. These are the antics of having a household with 4 daughters. You could go crazy if you don't laugh! I like this change so far. She feels more accessible. Amy feels a bit odd instantly as her younger self, but this is just a glance of her, so I will reserve my judgement.
- Wait, what? Oh, we just changed time back to the later years...and now there is a letter delivered as an awkward monologue. This feels disjointed.
- The family dynamic in the childhood scenes is lovely. It feels very authentic.
- Amy's whining after being punished at school is exactly what is expected of her, and how easily changeable she is the instant after. Laurie instantly notices ever second Jo is near. His focus is always pulled from anything else towards Jo, even Amy's antics.
- This is a perfect moment between Jo and Marmee. Jo is discussing her anger, and how all-consuming it is, and Marmee reveals that her anger is much the same, but that she has practice controlling it - she is proud of Jo, and we are able to see Jo's future through her mother's eyes - and it is not what society expects of her.
- Beth is awkward, not just shy...and otherwise seems to have no personality. It just doesn't work. I have no connection to her whatsoever, and she is normally my favourite after Jo. What an absolute shame. I still have a little hope that will improve.
- Meg at the debutante ball is handled well, I think. She isn't too out there and flirtatious (because this is sometimes done in versions, and that just isn't Meg), but she is 'playing a part' for sure. And yet, in comes Laurie, and eventually brings her back to herself, but also helps her have fun in a safe way. You can see his relationship with the March sisters separately now, and how he is tied together so intricately with them - how he belongs with them. There is no romance here, only friendship.
- Perfect! We get a moment of reality! Greta Gerwig seems to be adding these touches in, which I really appreciate. Here we get a discussion between Meg and John discussing money matters. It is a real stress and struggle that couples go through, but is often hidden or glossed over in a lot of these types of films (unless it is a crucial point). I like this moment because of its realism, and it doesn't take over or diminish anything else.
- Once again, we get to see the pressure Amy feels to be set up well for her future by marrying rich, and how she feels powerless as a woman. This is a powerful scene, and tells you exactly how she feels. It is very well done, and brings a lot of understanding to her character. Although she doesn't say it here, you wonder how she feels towards Jo - who takes her power forcefully, regardless of her sex. She mentions at the beginning of the scene that she feels like a failure as a painter with the fact that Jo has gone off to be a writer.
- Ah, back to younger scenes we see Meg and John laughing together. This contrasts with the moment not too long before of harder times. I do enjoy that, but overall I'm not finding the jump between timelines to be the most effective. It is impactful in small scenes like that, however.
- When Jo cuts her hair, there is a truly perfect scene between Jo and Amy. It is so rare that we get to see a tender moment between them. When Jo is upset about the loss of her hair, it is Amy who comforts her and understands her - and she absolutely would. Exactly what we needed - we need to understand that these two sisters, although have a contentious relationship often, truly love each other and have common points.
- Ah, Amy and Laurie. I've been looking forward to this scene. She's telling him off for his laziness and lack of practical motivation. She is in all ways practical, and perhaps has the clearest picture of what expectations are present and how her life should look, out of all of the March sisters. I can admire that strength and determination at least. Her hurt, anger and frustration at Laurie is not overplayed, and the expressions on her face are perfect.
- Beth's receipt of the piano is bittersweet with the knowledge that she has also just contracted scarlet fever. It's a nice moment, and well done. I still haven't connected to her enough for it to have impact, but I can't fault this scene.
- There we go, finally. Beth's understanding of her own mortality, and Jo's refusal to accept it. This is where I finally feel something for her. Good.
- Amy is raised to be her family's hope by Aunt March - she needs to marry rich to save them all from being penniless. She is told this when she is very young.
- Beth's passing is upsetting (as it should be), but unfortunately this isn't because of Beth. It's because of how it was shot. There is a contrast between similar scenes - one where she gets better and one where she does not. Laura Dern's reaction as Marmee is truly heartbreaking.
- Meg's wedding day. Meg tells Jo plainly what she wants, and it's lovely. Her dreams are more "traditional" for the time period, and she tries to explain to Jo that there isn't anything wrong with that. She is living her own life just the way she wants to. Jo's insecurities and heartbreaks are clear here. The next moments, are all a series of heartaches for her.
- The proposal was fine, nothing special, but nothing bothersome to me.
- After Beth's funeral, there is mention of Laurie. And Jo feels regret about refusing his proposal. And Jo says "I care more to be loved." This is so telling of her struggles. This whole scene is so fantastic.
- Laurie goes to accompany Amy on her travels home, even after she had pushed him away. This is such a pure and beautiful moment. It tells of his affection for her and for the family. But the fact that he is there after her keeping him at arm's length really shows how his love for her is different than his love for Jo.
- Jo's loneliness becomes more clear when she writes a letter to Laurie, and hears of his marriage to Amy. I think this was a strong addition. Her feelings towards him haven't truly changed, but her emotional state is different now.
- There is a brief moment, where Jo looks at the camera, in an odd fourth wall break. She is reading out loud a letter she has written to the publisher, Mr. Dashwood. No. I hate this. I am not against fourth wall breaks, but this seems so odd and out of place, that it really, really takes away from the moment. Mr. Dashwood does the same thing later, but it feels a little less strange coming from him.
- The scenes with Friedrich in the March household are sweet. He is not so awkward like he is often shown as in other adaptations. The scenes after, with the family banding around Jo and getting her to go after him - these are just brilliant. And contrasted with the publisher telling her how to end the book, the scene is so intelligently done. And yes, it's overdone and cliché, but it's supposed to be.
- It's interesting to see Jo being the one fighting to get her book published in the way she wants, rather than Professor Bhaer doing it. Very interesting change. These end scenes show a lot of change and growth between the characters. It feels very, very bittersweet though.
If you made it this far, congratulations! Overall, I think that the movie was shot beautifully and cinematically was really well done. It had some really strong points, and held up very well as a modern version, that didn't feel like "oh great, another version of Little Women." However, in many ways it was not the most faithful in feeling or content to the book. It took aspects of Louisa May Alcott's life and personality (which, of course, you see a lot in Jo in the first place) and incorporated them, as well as looked at more aspects of life and expectations at the time for women.
So, all in all, I did enjoy it and am glad I saw it, however I do think that a few of the errors (ex. the lack of development of Beth) were absolute travesties that could have easily been remedied. I think it may be a good way to get some modern audiences into the classics though, and you'll never see me complain about that!