August 10, 2020

Why Greta Gerwig’s Little Women Is Great


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Way back in the year 2019, a movie called Little Women was released. It hailed from an exciting writer/director, had an A-list cast, scored six Oscar nominations, and grossed over $200 million. And yet it still feels like this adaptation is underrated.

Fresh off of landing Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay for her 2017 film Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig set about writing a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women. Those unfamiliar with the source material may see the period costumes and title and shrug it off as a stuffy historical drama with little to no importance as it relates to the modern world. Those people are wrong, and in her 2019 adaptation Gerwig basically offers a masterclass in how Little Women is a timeless story about youth, about expectation vs. reality, and yes, about women.

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Image via Sony Pictures

The film, which is currently available on Digital HD and was released on Blu-ray and DVD today, threads in aspects of Alcott’s real life, and as Gerwig explains on the bonus features she was so inspired by just how interesting Alcott’s actual life was that she decided to put it into the movie. We watch as Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) sets about writing a story of her own experiences. That story goes through the negotiation process to be published, and the settlement that Jo agrees upon is the very settlement that Alcott made in getting Little Women first published in 1868.

Indeed, the bonus features on the home video release only further confirm that Greta Gerwig is a storytelling genius. She speaks passionately about not just wanting her Little Women to feel modern, but how she set about making that so through costuming, through overlapping dialogue, and through recontextualizing the story. Watching her work on set with the actors, and watching the ensemble cast delight in collaborating with Gerwig, really showcases how special this particular filmmaking experience was. It’s easy to see how the movie turned out so well.

It comes across onscreen, too. The casting is impeccable, as Florence Pugh brings heretofore unknown shades to the much-hated character of Amy March, while Emma Watson and Laura Dern and Eliza Scanlen embody the diversity of feminism, underlining the fact that there is no one right way to be a fulfilled and complex woman in the world. And is there anyone better to play Laurie than Timothee Chalamet? The actor speaks on the bonus features of how Laurie’s non-threatening masculinity compliments the March sisters well, and indeed Gerwig explains how Laurie and Jo are essentially gender-flipped versions of one another—to the point that she shows the characters wearing each other’s clothes throughout the film.

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Image via Sony Pictures

That’s to say nothing of the movie’s narrative complexity, as Gerwig blurs the lines between the past and the present, creating a juxtaposition between the boundless opportunity of youth and the harsh reality of adulthood. It’s a stroke of brilliance (one of many), and Gerwig explains in the bonus features how with this adaptation, she really wanted to shine a light on the Little Women characters as adults. Seeing who they actually grow up to be vs. who they thought they would grow up to be when they were kids. It’s heartbreaking and life-affirming all at once, seeing how things work out and how the strong-willed March sisters navigate their way through life with a steadfastness and compassion that was instilled in them at a young age.

What I’m saying is Little Women is great. Not just a great adaptation. Not just a great “chick flick.” It’s a genuinely great film—one of the best of 2019 and likely one of the best of the 2010s when all is said and done. And with the film now available on all home video formats, what better time to either finally check it our or revisit it over and over again?

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