December 28, 2019 at 1:34 pm #1203252709
Saw this yesterday and had a good time. I didn’t love it, but there’s still a lot to like in this adaptation. I’m gonna go into spoilers at some point, so for anyone who doesn’t know the plot of an extremely famous and very old novel, be warned.
This was actually the first version of Little Women I’ve seen in full. I already knew a decent amount about the original story, but I had never read the book or watched any adaptations prior to this one. Overall, I found it to be a strong film, although I really didn’t care for how they told the story out of sequence, which I’ll discuss later. Gerwig shows her talent behind camera once again. It’s not particularly showy work, and I definitely preferred her direction of Lady Bird (which I also prefer as a film over this one) but it’s nevertheless very good. The look and feel of the time period are very well done, and a lot of this film feels quite modern at times.
With the exception of one actor who disappointed me, I thought this was a great ensemble. Saoirse Ronan is one of the best actresses of her generation, and this film gives her a great showcase in the form of Jo, which she pulls off brilliantly. She was smart, bold, heartwarming, and funny. Everything I could have wanted her to be. Definitely the best performance of this cast. She won’t win, but she’s certainly going to be deservedly nominated this year. It’s not my favorite Ronan performance, but it’s definitely one of her best. Florence Pugh is the next biggest role and the next best performance. I understand that a lot of people aren’t very fond of her character, so I want to give kudos to Pugh and Gerwig for their work, as I found Amy to be likable and very engaging. The only point where I didn’t like the character was in the famous burning scene, and frankly, it’s impossible to side with her then, no matter how good the actress is. I’ve heard some people calling Pugh the standout of the film, and while I wouldn’t go that far, I do think she did a great job and I’m predicting her to get a deserving Oscar nod. She’s a clearly promising up and comer and I hope to see more of her in the future. Eliza Scanlen was also wonderful. She had a lovely warmth to performance as Beth, and managed to really tug on my heartstrings. I thought her role was undermined by the out of sequence storytelling, more so than the others, but that still doesn’t take away from her great work here. The always excellent Laura Dern brings a lot of heart to this film. She’s probably just as good here as she was in Marriage Story. This performance will help her win the Oscar, as it’s a great turn as a completely different character from her bigger contender, and people voting for her Marriage Story performance may also think it’s a way to honor her work in Little Women this year as well.
The two performances I heard mixed things about were Timothée Chalamet and Emma Watson. I went into this thinking I was gonna like Chalamet and not care for Watson, as I think the former is a great actor while the latter has never really impressed me. To my surprise, I thought Watson did a very good job holding her own against actors who I find more talented, while Chalamet felt like a weak link. After her last performance in Beauty and the Beast, I really wasn’t too big on Watson, but I think this was the best I’ve ever seen her. I didn’t think she was quite as good as Ronan, Pugh, Scanlen, and Dern, but I still found her to be genuinely touching here. In the future, I hope Watson’s work is less like what she did as Belle, and more like what she did as Meg. As for Chalamet, while he’s undeniably talented, I really wasn’t a fan of his here. It felt like he was trying to emulate what he did as a flawed, but likable and charismatic heartthrob in Call Me by Your Name, but here he often came across as more smug and full of himself than charming. He’s not without his good moments. I thought he worked well with Ronan, and his last few scenes are definitely his best. With that said, I still don’t think his work came together as an overall good performance. I wanted to see more warmth and kindness from Laurie, but he kept coming across as aloof, with the exception of his moments with Ronan, where he felt much more energetic. I also thought he had a few strange line deliveries. It felt like he was maybe trying to make older dialogue sound more modern, but it didn’t really come out like that. And honestly, I never saw any sparks between Chalamet and Pugh, who I thought carried their scenes together. They’re both clearly talented people, and while it was obvious that they were being pushed together, I didn’t see much chemistry between them, and I never found myself rooting for them like I did for the other couples. I’m really not sure what happened, cause Chalamet seems like a great fit for this role on paper, but the execution just rubbed me in the wrong way. Like I said though, he’s not without his good moments, and his last moments are his best. I’m just disappointed that such seemingly great casting turned out to be nowhere near as good as it could have been.
However, all that doesn’t detract from the many other strong players in this film. Meryl Streep as always, is a delight. It’s ridiculous that some people thought she might get a nomination for such a small part, especially when Pugh, Scanlen, Dern, and Watson are all more worthy, but she makes the most of her screen time, getting plenty of laughs, and her big speech to Pugh is a clear highlight of the movie (Pugh’s work in that scene is also fantastic). Give Meryl a good speech, and she’ll kill it. Bob Odenkirk as always, is a very welcome presence. Like Streep, he doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but he still makes an impact. Jayne Houdyshell and Tracy Letts are additional examples of fun performance in small roles. It’s nice to see Houdyshell’s film profile rising between being in a big film like this and getting to reprise her Tony winning role in The Humans before too long. James Norton and Louis Garrel are both charming and work very well off of Emma Watson and Saoirse Ronan respectively. One of the biggest standouts and definitely the strongest of the men was Chris Cooper as Mr. Laurence. He’s always great, and his work in Little Women is no exception. It’s one of those performances where I wanted to see more of him and learn more about his character, cause whenever he was onscreen, I found him captivating. His relationship with the Marches, especially his friendship with Beth was one of the most heartwarming parts of an already touching story. It’s a performance where you can detect great sadness and history within him without the film going into explicit detail about his past. Overall, this is one the best casts of the year. I know I ragged on Chalamet for awhile (sometimes it’s easier to describe why you don’t like something than it is to describe why you like something), but I thought everyone else really did some stellar work here. Like I said, the film managed to feel old and modern at the same time, and a lot of that is due to the skill of these wonderful actors.
As I said before, I didn’t care for the out of sequence storytelling. I thought it was by far the weakest part of the film, and I believe I definitely would’ve liked this movie more if it was told in a linear way. I already said this is the first version of Little Women I’ve watched in full, so maybe I wouldn’t have minded as much if I’d been more familiar with prior versions, but even then, I think this format hurt the narrative. There are weird moments where we see characters in their first chronological appearance that are shot like they’re introductions, but we’ve already seen these characters before, so it comes across as awkward. It’s almost like Gerwig originally wanted to make the film in chronological order, but she changed her mind after shooting it all. But my biggest problem with the editing was how it undercut the death of Beth. The film was handling it so well, but then shortly afterwards, we see Beth alive and well again. Seeing Beth immediately after her death robs the moment of its genuine tragedy. While she doesn’t appear again after that sequence, the idea that she’d continue to appear in the story right after her passing seriously downplayed the sadness of a heartbreaking moment. There were some moments where I thought it worked fine, specifically when they interspersed Jo reading to Beth on the beach to their prior day of fun there. But the moments where this trick worked were too few and far between. I get the feeling that Gerwig was self aware that this is a story that’s been done so many times already, so she decided to alter it to set her version apart from the others. But this is just not the story where this technique works. An example of where it works is Pulp Fiction. This is an original story that was designed to be told out of order. Much like Little Women, we see characters developing there, specifically Jules and Pooch. But unlike Little Women, all that development occurs in one portion. During those stories, they don’t cut back to these characters at an earlier time. When Pooch finishes his arc, we don’t see him again, because seeing him at an earlier time when he had yet to develop would undercut his story. And once Jules’s arc is finished, the movie itself is over. Here we keep cutting back and forth to these characters when their arcs are in very different spots. I’d much rather see Jo, Amy, Meg, and Beth growing chronologically as the original author intended. This is a great story that’s been around for so many years. Changing it like this was completely unnecessary.
However, as much as I disliked that element, the high quality of almost everything surrounding it more than made up for it. The costumes and sets are beautiful and lively. And once again, Alexandre Desplat has crafted a beautiful, lively, and emotionally moving score. He’s one of the best composers in the business, and I fully expect him to receive another nomination for his wonderful work here. As I said before, Gerwig’s direction is great. I wouldn’t nominate her for this, but I wouldn’t be too upset if she made it into the lineup. Although I could’ve done without the talking heads for the letter scenes, as simple narration would have sufficed. The writing is also very good, but as someone who’s a bit new to this story, I’m not entirely sure where Louisa May Alcott begins and Gerwig ends, although there’s several lines of dialogue that are clearly from the original author. It’s not exactly that those lines are dated, but they’re just clearly rooted in the past. Because I’m not entirely sure how much of the material in the screenplay is Gerwig’s, I’m clearly not the best person to decide whether or not her script should be nominated. However, it’s a very weak year in this category, so I’m sure she’ll get in, and even though I didn’t like her choice to mess with the chronological nature of the narrative, I won’t mind a nomination. However, I don’t think she has much of a shot when it comes to winning, as Jojo Rabbit seems like the clear frontrunner, and The Irishman will likely be the runner up. But I’m sure if Gerwig keeps taking on strong projects as a performer, director, and writer, she’ll eventually win Oscar gold.
I’d recommend Little Women. It wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, but it was still a very strong film, and I believe general audiences will respond very well to it. I think this will do well at the Oscars, even if it didn’t do so hot at some of the precursors. I’m currently guessing it’ll get info Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Score, Costumes, and Production Design. Little Women wasn’t perfect, but it was still smart, touching, and empowering.December 28, 2019 at 2:55 pm #1203252768
Little Women is a story about white women. There are other stories set in the same period about people of colour. It is not Greta or anyone on the cast or crew of Little Women’s fault that people of colour are not displayed on screen. Blame Hollywood and the system. Hire directors and writers of colour to adapt the stores of people of colour. Hollywood is still white supremacy and it needs to change.December 28, 2019 at 3:55 pm #1203252824
Saw the movie today and thought it was great. The cast is superb and Florence Pugh should be getting a Supporting Nomination this year. The film would also be a worthy nominee in Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor, Costume Design, and Adapted Screenplay.
My biggest issue with it was the editing, I do think it had a awkward narrative flow in moments do to the editing.December 29, 2019 at 5:15 pm #1203253577
Praying for Saoirse’s 4th Oscar nominationDecember 29, 2019 at 5:18 pm #1203253584
Beat expectations for a strong $29m opening holiday weekend and an A- Cinemascore. Riding a wave of buzz from a BP nomination could get it to $100m. It’s officially a hit.
We love seeing success for the best American film of the year.January 4, 2020 at 11:40 am #1203259878
I finally saw this earlier this week, and it is absolutely wonderful. “Lady Bird” is my favorite film of the 2010s, and now with this, Greta Gerwig has a lifelong pass in my book. This film grows upon the directorial promise shown in “Lady Bird” and improves in almost every single aspect. With a full budget and a sweeping story, Gerwig shows she is more than capable (rather, quite masterful) of handling a project of this scope. She sets the stage early on and the movie never stops moving, but the tone is so warm and inviting that you devour every second of this film. Her screenplay is equally excellent, and although I have not read “Little Women,” I Understand why Gerwig chose to chop up the story the way she did for narrative moments that carry much more weight in this order. Her meta commentary about her own career and the legacy of this story is masterful. Production design, costumes, score and editing are all top of the line.
I think this is Saoirse Ronan’s best performance ever. She is absolutely pitch perfect in this role and communicates so much with just a look. Many of her best moments are conveyed through her face alone, and she knocks it out of the park. She runs the gamut in this film and grounds this story in a way that I really don’t know any other actress her age could. Florence Pugh is likewise fantastic, and she imbues the character of Amy with so much personality and drive that you can see the groundwork she lays when she plays Amy as a teenager and how that informs her performance of Amy as a young adult. Eliza Scanlen and Emma Watson were both really great and it felt like their screentime was never wasted to tell us their stories and motivations. Timothee Chalamet really had the right charm for this role and comes across as a boy trying to fit in as a man and falling just short, which is exactly right for this role. His chemistry with Ronan is god-tier (which we’d already seen in “Lady Bird”) but his work with Pugh is equally captivating. Laura Dern, dare I say it, is better in this film than “Marriage Story,” and she gives off a warmth and maternal presence that just proves her range as an actress. Meryl Streep knew exactly what was needed of her in this role and she delivered without going overboard, as could be the risk with a “comic relief” character like Aunt March. The men in this film are all very good, especially Chris Cooper (a very good year for him in supporting roles with this and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”).
Overall, I just adored the film and found its message to be extremely powerful. It is tightly told so that the 2+ hours never feel slow and you crave even more time by the end of the film. Gerwig has a lifelong pass from me now and I’ll be watching every single thing she does for as long as she does it. The film’s financial success is incredibly satisfying and I hope Oscar voters make up for the short-changed results of the awards season so far.
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