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Little Women

For the love of humanity: Kiss each other!

Synopsis: Louisa May Alcott’s novel as interpreted by Greta Gerwig: Four sisters and neighbor boy in Civil War-era New England. 

I did it! Months ago, after I first saw the Little Women trailer, I screamed that I wouldn’t be able to wait til its Christmas release to see the movie. But I did it! I know, quite the accomplishment.

Filmmaker Greta Gerwig makes an update worth seeing. When I read that she would be writing the screenplay and directing, I knew the material was in capable hands. Saoirse Ronan as Jo? Perfect! I cackled with glee upon learning that the beautiful boy Timothée Chalamet would be the neighbor boy, Theodore “Laurie” Laurence who is so devoted to the March sisters.

The press fell over themselves reporting that Meryl Streep would be wealthy Aunt March. But I was more interested in the fact that Hermione of HP fame (Emma Watson) was cast as sensible sister Meg, the power house actress who starred as a spy in The Little Drummer Girl (Florence Pugh) would be bratty Amy and the woman who played the roller skating psycho teen in Sharp Objects (Eliza Scanlen) would be sickly doll-loving Beth.

To add to the good news– Ms. Gerwig would film in Massachusetts. Hurrah for verisimilitude! I fly into a rage when I see North Carolina standing in for the great forests of the Northeast. Ah, the sunless skies and tall pines of New England.

The book follows the lives of the March sisters chronologically, beginning when the girls range from tween to teen. The 1994 Little Women starring Winona Ryder as Josephine March closely follows the book. In the adaptation, a twelve year-old Kirsten Dunst played the youngest sister, Amy before the role was handed off to adult actress Samantha Mathis  for the later scenes. In this movie, Florence Pugh stretches her acting skills by playing young & older Amy. So as not to confuse the audience, young Amy has bangs.

If you haven’t read the book and have been recently clonked on the head, you could get a mite confused with the shifts between the Civil War past and the post-war “present.” Otherwise you’ll do fine keeping up.

So, the movie… you’ll wish you were in it, taking part in Jo’s home-staged plays, trying to wean Beth away from obsessing over her dolls and carousing with Laurie. Saoirse’s Jo has a fiery, independent spirit. When she’s not pulling an all-nighter to finish one of her adventure stories (think Lifetime woman-in-peril teleplays), she’s galivanting all over town with Laurie, or, as she calls him Teddy. Oh, sweet Timmi… what a romantic figure he cuts; dressed like a schoolboy dandy, locks askew, longing eyes fixed on Jo.

The number one entry in my Splendid Scene Notebook is featured in the trailer, but wait til you see it in the movie… when Teddy-Timmi tries to convince Jo-Saoirse to love him? Don’t be ashamed to cry as he offers her his heart and she has no choice but to break it.

Just keep crying because the most Splendid Scene runner-up is Jo and Beth at the beach where writer Jo has paid to whisk away her sister in the hopes that she will be cured of her general ill health. Brace yourself: even if there had been no dialog, all the forced hopefulness from Jo and the resigned sadness of Beth are revealed clearly on their faces. Ok, now I’m choked up.

From left to right: Beth, Jo, Meg and Amy.  As the country suffers under the Civil War, Jo looks on disapprovingly as Amy recites her Christams wish list, ” …and a pony, fancy skates, a gilded hand mirror, plenty of velvet bows and satin ribbons…”

The March sisters have plenty to celebrate too, like going to dances and playing music. If they lived today the irrepressible sisters would likely be biding their time at music fests and looking for deals at thrift shops. The girls find stuff to squabble about too. When Jo tells Amy that she can’t join-in on a night of partying, Amy goes nuclear. When jealous Amy gets back at Jo in a particularly spiteful fashion, the triumphant look on her face — as telegraphed by Florence Pugh– is perfection. Oh, no… now Jo & Amy are literally rolling on the floor fighting! Just like sisters today when one steals the other’s phone and messes with their social media.

In fact, the movie makes the viewer see the story in a fresh way. Jo may write her stories with an old-fashioned ink pen instead of on a laptop and Amy may be sick with something that could be cured today, but dreams and misfortunes will always be with us.

At one point in Little Women, grown up Amy schools Laurie on the restrictions of being a woman — no right to vote, a married woman’s property and children owned by her husband, et cetera. Amy gets pretty fired up and rightly so. I agreed with all of her character’s anger over the lack of equality, but the speech seemed a little clunky and I don’t know from reading the book that her character was so enlightened. But then I read that Meryl Streep “suggested” to Greta Gerwig that she should write some dialog explicating women’s second class citizenry in 1860’s America. And when Meryl Streep makes a suggestion, it shall be done. In any event, Laurie just listens impassively while lounging on a velvet chair. He could have been sympathetic or just daydreaming about taking Amy out for ice cream.

Little Women itself is a treat. One that’s best shared because after the movie, you’ll want to talk about literature, changing society and oh, how hard it is to let go of the thought of Jo and Laurie together. Especially when they’re played by Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet.

Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:

Grade:  A

Cut to the Chase:  A new classic with a modern take on the ending that manages to be a love story and a success story — Jo’s book! Great onscreen chemistry between Ms. Ronan’s Jo and Mr. Chalamet’s Laurie.

Humor Highlight:  Meryl Streep’s Aunt March raining on everybody’s parade.


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