Arynn Williams, Correspondent
Awards season is in full swing, with the Oscars premiering two weeks early this year. On Feb. 9, The Academy will announce the winner for Best Picture. Of the nine nominees, Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” is a personal favorite–and with nominations in six categories, it’s safe to say plenty of The Academy’s voters feel the same.
“Little Women” is Gerwig’s second solo directorial project, following her 2017 film “Lady Bird”, which earned Gerwig a nomination for Best Director at the 2018 Oscars. Though she was not nominated for Best Director this year, it seems as if Gerwig is incapable of making a bad movie. Her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel is proof that Gerwig will likely continue to charm and entertain audiences for years to come, establishing herself as a great American director.
“Little Women” (2019) comes exactly 25 years after the last major adaptation, directed by Gillian Armstrong in 1994. Armstrong’s version is a well-made, well-casted film in its own right, but Gerwig’s film brings a whole new vision to the story. If you have watched the 1994 version and think there is no point in watching yet another adaptation, I strongly urge you to reconsider. An issue with both the source material and all film versions until now is the intense mood shift after the first half, which never quite resolves itself at the end. Gerwig fixes this by arranging the story into a nonlinear timeline, mixing the good with the bad. In theory, flashing back and forth between the Marches’ adolescence and adulthood seems confusing, but it balances the film so that the second half isn’t weighed down by the continuous hardships the sisters experience after they leave home. It also saves Amy March from the audience’s wrath.
Amy March has a reputation: she’s unlikeable, she’s bratty, she’s the worst of the March sisters. The audience is seemingly encouraged to view her as a villain for being different than her sister, Jo. However, by interweaving the timeline so that we see both the good (Amy caring for her ungrateful aunt when no one else will) and the bad (Amy destroying Jo’s manuscripts in a fit of rage), Gerwig shows that Amy is not as one dimensional as previous adaptations portrayed her. A lot of praise should go to Florence Pugh, whose performance of Amy has earned her a nomination for best supporting actress. Pugh’s excellent expressions allows viewers a look into the complicated, but often ignored, life of the youngest March sister. Yes, her relationship with her older sister is contemptuous at times, but Amy is just as loving, creative, and intelligent as Jo. Gerwig shows us that just because Amy makes different choices than Jo, she isn’t any less goodhearted.
Jo, too, is more complex in Gerwig’s adaptation than previous versions. Nowhere near flawless, Jo is shown to be prone to just as much impulsivity and unkindness as Amy. She is also hardworking and determined and resourceful. The key to Gerwig’s success is the understanding that people are never simple, always good or always bad, and they’re capable of change. There is a realism in each and every character in “Little Women”, and while events can seem fantastical, the characters never seem unbelievable. Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet reunite in Gerwig’s second film and their ability to share a scene, both performing their hearts out without ever unfairly stealing a moment from the other, is incredible. During their rejection scene, I was struck by just how real the chaos felt; Saoirse rants and rambles, while Timothée repeats his stance again and again to no avail. The scene doesn’t feel overwrought–it might even hit too close to home for many viewers.
When comparing this adaptation to past ones, I can find a million reasons why this film is superior, but it has merits in its own right. It is the epitome of warmth and love. Its scenes glow, are alternatively bright and dark, but never dull. There are moments of grief, but the last scene is pure optimism. The chances are stacked against it winning the majority of the awards it is nominated for, but the film is still very worthy of praise. If you are not familiar with the source material, have no fear, for the movie is designed to be experienced by everyone who is willing to give it a chance. I highly recommend watching it while it is still in theaters.