Movie Review: “Little Women”

Little Women — a film review by Gary Chew

The first time I centered my attention on Greta Gerwig, I sensed, with a certain amount of serendipity, that this young woman glows. There was something with her body language, speech and aura that told me: Greta glows. So, how could her newest movie not?

Little Women, as adapted by Greta from Louisa May Alcott’s enduring story… then directed by our gal from Sacramento, would certainly glow whether or not Alcott had written the book. Gerwig surely shows a brilliant effort that she wants her Little Women to be an achievement too … even if it might also go so far as to glitter.

This evergreen story of a New England family’s life during the American Civil War is firmly based in Christianity. The March girls’ father has been away serving in the Civil War as a Union chaplain.

What I liked about the film, and book as well, is the emphasis on this particular religion being brought to its fullest dimension via Christianity’s fundamental teaching: living one’s life in, to the extent it’s humanly possible, a state of grace. Giving without expecting something in return is its most significant tenet. There are other fundamentals for living a good life, yes … but grace is what best exemplifies Christian belief. This what Little Women is about. Could it be that’s why the list of films and TV series that bear this title is so long?

This aspect of Christianity is a welcomed element to stress in a contemporary redux of Alcott’s account of a loving family equally confronted by war and common domestic foibles. But such forthright efforts have an opposing force: how much control is a woman reaching full maturity to exert over her own destiny. That’s where Greta Gerwig’s glow comes in.

I should add that Louisa May Alcott also had such a glow, at least in what she put to the page. So now, we know why Little Women is still so much alive on the page… in television series… in previous feature films and, now, this new movie made by a thirty-something woman who hails from Sacramento.

As Alcott put in the mouth of her character Jo: “I like good strong words that mean something,” Jo, so impressively played by Saoirse Ronan, wants to thrive by personal accomplishments. Jo’s other sisters, Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) are so inclined, albeit with a bit less vigor. The girls are tenderly and gracefully mothered by Marmee (Laura Dern). The March ladies miss Mr. March (Bob Odenkirk)… away during the Civil War. Father March does survive this conflict and returns home.

Tracy Letts is a delightful comic relief as Mr. Dashwood, Jo’s foil and publisher. It’s a small but well defined character that was surely a big kick for Letts to let loose. Mr. Dashwood’s efforts to insure he makes, at least, a buck or two selling Jo’s stories are in the script to elicit your chuckles.

Little WomenLaurie (Timoth ée Chalamet) suavely choreographs his presence among the March girls in fine fashion, but especially with Jo and Meg. Aunt March, who appears suspiciously to be a Republican, is done by the venerable Meryl Streep. Chris Cooper — so good to see — is the wealthy but wise Mr. Lawrence whom, I thought at first, might be Mark Twain.

Kudos must be allowed for the extraordinary supporting necessities given Little Women. Scenes shot in rural Massachusetts are breathtaking; costumes for this period piece are impeccable and the music, composed by Alexandre Desplat, is likely to get an Oscar nomination, as least. Desplat is no stranger to being an Oscar recipient for his work. Maestro Desplat has gotten eight Oscar nominations. He’s won two, for The Grand Budapest Hotel and, more recently, The Shape of Water.

It must be reported here however, if you aren’t totally immersed in Little Women as the book has it, Gerwig’s wont to modernize it might be confusing. Greta back-and-forths it in time, starting with Jo talking turkey with Mr. Dashwood about how to publish and, more importantly for Mr. Dashwood, what sells a book. Someone sitting near me watching the film had far more memory banks to recall how Alcott told the semi-autobiographical story. My friend was quick to point out that she was glad the book remained so indelibly in her mind; and thus for those without such a clear recollection, might find Gerwig’s script bewildering. My friend is correct about that.

Whatever you choose to call them, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is the perfect gift to help your holidays glow.

Gary Chew
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