By Sadie Dodds
I like to think that I can be an extremely impenetrable person. I enjoy saying that I never cry in movies and can sit through a horror film without flinching. However, that isn’t wholly true. Every so often, I come across a movie that gets to me, one that has something about it that makes me feel everything. The 2019 remake of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 and 1869 book “Little Women” is one of these movies. The new “Little Women” combines incredible scenery with gorgeous costumes, heartstring-pulling music, and tear-jerking dialogue into what I feel is the best movie of the season.
There have been many versions of Alcott’s acclaimed novel. When “Little Women” first came out, it was groundbreaking because, at the time, nobody understood the issues that women went through or the fact that they had real emotions and strengths. “Little Women” became an inspiration for almost every female writer since as well as many female readers. This movie, in turn, has become a beacon of female power for today’s women. In one scene, Amy (Florence Pugh) explains to Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) that she, as a woman, needs to marry to have money and that he, as a man, can’t possibly understand that. In another, Jo (Saorise Ronan) struggles with her emotions as she tries to learn the difference between wanting to be with someone from loneliness and wanting to be with someone for love.
Besides being a great representation of realistic women, “Little Women” has fantastic artistic value. From incredible costumes to a picturesque setting to brilliant actors, this film kept my eyes glued to the screen throughout the whole 2 hours and 15 minutes.
To add to its distinct artistic style, Director Greta Gerwig chose to play this story out by bouncing back and forth through time. Just as the viewer gets used to seeing Jo and her sisters as young women, the film yanks them into the much different world of their adulthood. The audience goes from watching the sisters fight over childish issues to see them deal with money problems, death, and the complexities of love. At first this can be very disconcerting, but as you get used to the flow from future to past, sadness to joy, you begin to love this movie all the more for it.
Despite my praise, no movie is perfect, and “Little Women” is not the exception.
Through all of the “Little Women” adaptations, one of the most significant turning points in the movie has been Beth’s death. It is always repeated and emphasized that this affects the family so significantly because she was the best of them. They say that Beth is the kindest and that her talents on the piano are fantastic; however, we never see this is the movie. The characters repeat over and over that she was terrific, but the audience never really feels that because we never really see it. Because the audience doesn’t understand Beth, when she dies, they struggle to grasp the level of grief that the characters feel. Gerwig solves this problem slightly with beautiful and emotional performances by Saorise Ronan and Laura Dern (who plays the sisters’ mother, Mary March) and by switching back and forth between Beth’s death and Meg’s wedding. This bouncing back and forth lets the audience feel okay about not being sad because something good is going on as well.
On top of Beth’s mildly disappointing portrayal, Gerwig’s ending leaves something to be desired. Gerwig had the movie climax with the publishing of Jo’s first book about the lives of her sisters. The film soon reveals that Jo’s book is “Little Women,” implying that Jo March, not Lousia May Alcott, wrote the famous story. Having Jo tell her life’s story and succeed at being a writer is a great plot point, and I especially love that it is almost breaking the fourth wall. The issue that I have is with the other part of the climax.
Jo’s publisher tells Jo that to get her book published and sold, she needs to have her main character (based on Jo) marry a man. Jo agrees to make the change just before the movie cuts to a scene of Jo, deciding that she does want to marry Friedrich Bhaer, and they live happily ever after. The scene with Jo’s rewrite implies that Jo did not end up with Friedrich. To some people, this may seem like a great and realistic approach to Jo because she didn’t even feel the need to end up with anyone, so it makes more sense for her character to be independent.
I do agree with this; the problem is that by making the fact that she ended up with Friedrich unsure, it takes away from everything else that the audience learned about the March family. Suddenly, they are unsure of everything.
Did Jo really end up owning a schoolhouse? Were the sisters actually happy and in love by the end? Did any of what happened earlier in the movie really happen, or was it all just a rewrite by Jo? Was any of the gorgeous film that we just saw even a possibility?
This ending was so startling for me that it almost ruined the experience because my final impression of this incredible film was a bad one. However, this film’s assets far outway the problems that I see in it.