Little Women (2019)

Do I really need to summarise this? haha

Greta Gerwig’s take on Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women (and Good Wives) has gotten a lot of good press and some Oscar hype, and it did look nice in the trailer. But I don’t think I was nearly as impressed as many of the professional critics were.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Good

  • Alexandre Desplat’s music was the best part of the movie for me. Faintly reminiscent of Hisaishi Joe’s music, it was full of piano and harp (I think) and it felt light and magical and a little bit Christmas-y (appropriate since this was released in the US in December 2019 although it only came out in February 2020 here). There were times when I actually tuned out of the scene and just let the music dance around my head.
  • The movie looks really pretty. Cinematography and production design were very good. The hair and costumes may not be fully period-accurate (I’ve read complaints about the hairstyles in particular) but as this movie isn’t pretending to be historically accurate in all aspects, I can overlook that quite easily.
  • Meryl Streep as Aunt March is excellent casting. She fits the role. haha
  • The story isn’t told in linear fashion, and depending on how you look at it this is either good or bad. It’s good in that it makes the story feel newer than it is, allows you to compare past and present versions of the characters, and offers something significantly different from other screen versions of Little Women.

The Not-so-good

  • … The movie’s non-linear storytelling is not so great in that it could be tricky for anyone unfamiliar with the story to track exactly what’s happening. The characters are played by the same actors even though there’s a seven-year difference between the ‘present’ and the ‘past’, which adds to the confusion.
  • The story is told from Jo’s point of view, and the movie suggests that the flashbacks to the past are her memories. This idea mostly works, but then it makes you question where some of the scenes – in which Jo was not involved – came from. Meg at Sallie’s debutante ball, Amy getting punished at school, etc.
  • It’s a very star-studded cast, and Florence Pugh in particular has gotten high praise from critics for her role as Amy. I didn’t feel what the critics felt. She wasn’t bad in the role, but she came across as older than Meg, the eldest sister. It’s a combination of looks and voices. Emma Watson is much more slender and her tone of voice is higher than Florence Pugh’s. When Pugh was playing 12-year-old Amy, it felt simply unbelievable to me. As 20-year-old Amy it was a little better, but she still seemed older than Meg.
    Emma Watson’s Meg didn’t really get to do much, which is a pity. I don’t know if it’s the script or Watson’s acting. Most critics blame the latter though.**
    Timothee Chalamet does fine as young Laurie but he doesn’t “age” enough. He felt and looked distinctly younger than Amy in the “present” storyline, which didn’t help to sell their romance to me at all.
  • The romances were largely unconvincing. John Brooke came across as more bumbling than he should be, and there wasn’t enough to show why Meg would have fallen for him. Likewise, there simply wasn’t enough of Professor Bhaer to show why or how Jo came to love him. She was just suddenly in love and it didn’t feel justified. Amy and Laurie were better done than those two relationships but even then I didn’t feel the connection between them.
  • The overall pacing was… Okay? Could have been better. Some parts moved just fine, others zoomed past too quickly, and yet others slowed down almost to a stop. The movie is slightly over two hours long and it felt long.
  • It’s a very good thing that Little Women and Good Wives are among my most-read books so I know exactly what’s supposed to be happening even if I stopped paying attention for a while, I was never lost. And I stopped paying attention quite frequently in this movie. :/

Other Stuff

  • There are many “noisy” scenes at the March home, where the March girls talk over each other, all at once. This has been praised as being a realistic depiction of family life. Maybe it is. But it doesn’t make the scenes or the dialogue easier to follow.
  • Meg tells Jo that just because her dream is different from Jo’s (family vs. career), that doesn’t make it less important. Well and good. I agree. But the movie could have done a better job of showing how it’s just as important as Jo’s dreams of becoming a writer. You barely see Meg’s children, and we hardly see Meg being happy in her home life. We see her being troubled after splurging on unnecessary fabric, upset when she sees she has hurt John, and then happy again when she tells John she’s sold the fabric to Sallie. That’s about all we get of Meg’s ‘present’ life and I think the lack of Meg’s scenes undermines the statement that her dream, while different, is not any less than Jo’s.
  • The very minor change to Jo’s school at the end is telling. In the book, Jo opens a school for boys because she’s always enjoyed being around the guys. (Heck, the third book is called Little Men, and it’s mainly about the boys at Jo’s school.) In this movie, she opens a school for girls. Why? Because earlier, after the one scene of Amy at school, we are told that schools for girls are terrible. So now Jo wants to open a school for girls like Daisy, Meg’s daughter. When asked, “What about Demi?” (Daisy’s twin brother) Jo adds that ok, the school will be for boys too.
    Hmmm. This doesn’t harm the movie’s narrative at all, but it’s an interesting and telling change to the original story. Screen versions of Jo usually don’t emphasise how much she wishes she could be a boy, or how much fun she has when hanging out with Laurie and his male friends. I should rewatch the 1994 and 2017 versions to see what exactly their endings were since I don’t remember them that clearly.

** I must admit to a great deal of personal bias when it comes to Meg and Amy, who have always been my two favourite March sisters because they feel more like me with their shared appreciation of nice things, as well as Meg’s more passive nature (compared to Jo) and Amy’s artistic talents. Plus, Amy doesn’t really like the shape of her nose and I can totally relate to that. Amy also realises there’s a difference between talent and genius, which is also something that always struck a chord deep within me. So far, no screen version of Amy has quite done justice to the character. It may also come down to how they nearly always insist on using the same actress to play Amy even though Amy goes from 12 to about 20 over the course of the story, and that usually feels weird because she either looks too old or feels too young… The 1994 version did change actresses though, which helped make older Amy a lot more palatable to me (as in, I don’t remember feeling that dissatisfied about Amy in that version compared to the 2017 and 2019 ones). But I should probably rewatch that version to make a fairer comparison.

Got anything to add or say? :D