Little Women – Film Review
*I was invited to attend this private screening by Sony Pictures
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women is another excellent film to add to her growing list of credentials and it is truly a feast for the eyes. Sumptuous, glorious, spellbinding, amusing, heartfelt, joyous, I will soon run out of adjectives, it is simply a delight to watch as the 8th film adaptation of the novel. Equally, watching Little Women on an IMAX screen for this media screening preview was truly the ideal immersive experience for such an intoxicating film.
The March women from Louisa May Alcott’s tale are just portrayed in such a captivating manner, in this version of Little Women, and are full of spirit imbuing charm. I longed to have a large number of sisters, as a support network, whilst watching their onscreen interaction and so this heartfelt film is perfectly timed for a Christmas release. It is certainly not necessary to have read the novel beforehand or even to have remembered the plot, if you have read the novel, as the central themes are clear and the message that a woman must ‘marry well’ during the 19th century is delivered often. Despite being reflective of such period and therefore not very diverse, this adaptation of Little Women should appeal to most modern audiences as we follow the engaging antics of the four March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy.
From the outset, you will be aware of the inferior position of some women, in such era, as Saoirse Ronan’s character, Jo, receives a lower sum than the norm for a piece of her writing and does not publish the works under her name. However, there is that sense of progression in her character throughout the film as a similar scene is replayed later with a different, triumphant outcome. This is very much Saoirse’s film, as the free-spirited Jo, and she certainly delivers another impressive performance and commands the audience’s attention. The other family members are equally well portrayed within their supporting roles, Laura Dern as their mother is a notable mention, and Florence Pugh, as Amy, is provided with another opportunity, after Midsommar, to cry her heart out, she does it so well!
Amidst debutante balls with sumptuous, whirling dresses and feverish dances and grand estates, the cinematography is superb in immersing the audience in such moments. However, we are not let off that lightly as there are also extremely poignant moments to be found unexpectedly. So, do be prepared with some tissues! These moments are delivered subtly but effectively with particularly heart wrenching performances from Saoirse and Laura Dern during Beth’s period of convalescence. It is during these moments that the use of intercuts providing flashbacks of the past juxtaposed with the present to empathise the emotion further will unexpectedly tug at your heart strings as Gerwig’s skilful direction means that we grow to care for the wellbeing of the March family.
We know from the film’s opening quote by Louisa May Alcott that Little Women will be a film displaying merriment overall and indeed the scenes of feverish dancing between Jo and Laurie and the overall camaraderie of the March sisters, with their differing aspirations – some wish to marry and others wish for creative careers, are a joy to watch. What is clear, however, is that immediate contrast between the colourful scenes from their glorious childhood past, despite the sisters’ father being away at war, which are conveyed by the richness of the autumnal colours which invoke a golden hue compared to those colours of the scenes in the present. There are mesmerising, panoramic shots of golden fields during autumn with a rich colour palette of greens, yellows and oranges which may, in a subsequent non-linear scene, be contrasted with a largely monochrome palette of the present depicting the grimness of New York or poignant but bleak scenes within adulthood. These techniques help to keep the film intriguing and modern and I enjoyed this approach despite the film remaining moderately faithful to the novel.
Other elements of the film and the cinematography were reminiscent to me of Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire given that similar sense of frustration evoked at the limitations placed on certain women that permeates Little Women. However, the surrounding settings plus sweeping, spiral staircases are simply beautiful and composed like a painting which will certainly entice you despite the frustrations. Emphasis is also placed on the book binding process and the careful exercise of choosing good quality fabric with camera angles provoking such sensuality and sumptuousness that such tasks instantly seem alluring. Those close-up scenes with fabric evoked memories of Paul Thomas Anderson’s, The Phantom Thread, which is also very captivating. One particular scene struck me which truly emphasised that sensuality of wearing a beautiful dress when Meg’s back is turned to the camera in another painterly composition.
Little Women is such a jolly tale as a whole, which we anticipate from the outset from the words of Alcott, ‘I’ve had lots of troubles, so I write jolly tales.’ For years, however, the novel had not been received positively and certainly polarised opinion as to whether it was truly a feminist tale or merely reflected the status quo. Under Gerwig’s direction, we are privy to a strong undercurrent of female independence and liberty that permeates Little Women and is epitomised within Saoirse’s performance of Jo. You may therefore find that you resonate with Jo the most, out of all of the sisters, given that she eschews convention and prizes freedom above all else which are traits reflective of our modern society.
The film does become rather meta towards the ending of Jo’s story and so I will not reveal any more details, but do let me know in the comments below whether you preferred the film’s treatment of Jo rather than the novel’s. Meg’s story, played by Emma Watson, is perhaps the most conventional, although Gerwig’s slow reveal means that we are eventually aware that all is not perfect. Amy is similar to Jo in seeking an artistic career, hence their rivalry, but is perhaps more romantic and ultimately poised and Beth, played by Eliza Scanlen, is simply adorable portraying a humane pianist.
Despite the rivalry between Jo and Amy, which are compelling scenes in themselves pitting Florence against Saoirse to thrilling effect, parts of Amy’s dialogue also explore that consideration required by certain women, in that period, of the impact that marital status would have on their future. Effectively, Amy’s belief is that marriage is an economic exchange which may be reflective of Alcott’s views in such period, which seem to be very forward thinking. Love is therefore a currency for which the right price must be obtained and Gerwig has certainly struck gold here. The perfect balance between emphasis on beauty with close ups of the actors countered with highlighting the financial negotiation within relationships is not an easy feat to achieve but Gerwig has done this well. There are also some very witty quips from the novel that have been retained, which will be ideal for many social media soundbites, which might increase the novel’s appeal to a new generation.
Indeed, Little Women is a film designed to highlight the experience of the March sisters but it would be remiss of me not to mention Timothée Chalamet’s captivating performance as Laurie. Yes, the camera does linger at moments on his sculpted cheekbones highlighting that he is viewed as an object of desire by some of the March sisters. His portrayal of Laurie is compelling to watch and he is extremely convincing as a spoiled yet empathetic aristocrat. The sizzling chemistry between Timothée and Saoirse as Laurie and Jo is mesmerising to discover on screen despite Jo’s initial protestations to the contrary. Even though the film and the novel are about the ‘Little Women’, which is the March sisters’ father’s reference to his daughters, it is the dynamics of Laurie and Jo and their platonic, pseudo-romantic relationship which enchanted me the most.
This is an enjoyable, well-made film which is mainly humorous and joyful. However, as referenced above, given that Little Women does not reflect diversity and focuses on the privileged then the film may not resonate with everyone.
Little Women will be released in UK cinemas on Boxing Day 2019