A Change For The Better
Stars: Saoirse Ronan (Jo), Emma Watson (Meg), Florence Pugh (Amy), Eliza Scanlen (Beth), Laura Dern (Marmee), Meryl Streep (Aunt March), Timothee Chalamet (“Laurie”), Bob Odenkirk (Father March), Chris Cooper (Mr. Laurence), Louis Garrel (Friedrich) and Tracy Letts (Mr. Dashwood)
Director/Scriptwriter: Greta Gerwig based on “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
Composer: Alexandre Despait
Cinematography: Yorick Le Saux
Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures
Rating: PG 13
Running Length: 136 Minutes
Yes, it has happened again. Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel of young womanhood has another adaptation. This time, the stress is not on finding a husband, but on bettering oneself as a woman, in an age where women were expected to marry, manage a household and have children. Greta Gerwig has taken the book and gives us the main character of Josephine (“Jo”) who is the oldest of four sisters, headstrong, and quite talented in writing, though not social graces. Tomboy, comes to mind. The other sisters, Meg, Any and Beth, are content with their lives, though not without jealousy, envy, and bickering. The actresses, Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen, blend as sisters would, though Laura Dern as their mother, Marmee, seems a bit tame for this group. Against a colorful backdrop of New England after the 1860’s Civil War in America, there is mending to be done in the country, and eventually, mending to be done in family relations. Each scene is like a Thomas Kinkade painting come to life.
Louis May Alcott’s novel of family life, in a feminine viewpoint, during and after the Civil War created characters in the family, we all can recognize. The headstrong, older sister, the middle rebellious and envious child, a frail child and one who just wants her own home. The group has to pull together as their father has been called to be s soldier and times are tough, financially. There is a rich relative, Aunt March, who never has a kind word. Across the meadow is a wealthy house owned by Mr. Laurence and his grandson, Theodore (called “Laurie”) who is tutored and lives there. Eventually, the girls meet Laurie and become friends to the delight of Mr. Laurence who is lonely in that big house. We follow the adventures of the young women as they mature and this is not told in timely fashion. Instead, we have flashbacks from teenagers to adults who seek their own paths. When Jo, the writer, takes material to Mr. Dashwood, a publisher, she has to pretend she is representing “a friend,” (presumably male) rather than herself, a female writer. Though the family is considered poor, they still give what they have to those even poorer. Hardly anyone owns a coat in winter, but rather, wraps themselves in many cloaks for warmth. Fireplaces give heat and that is where people gather in winter. Christmas morning breakfast is a treat. We see the richness of fields and trees and celebrating holidays and cooking together and laughing together.
The individual personalities of the main characters come through with Saoirse Ronan as Jo, the strongest. With red hair and temper to match she is a force to behold…and she can’t stop writing. The emotional battle between Jo and Florence Pugh’s “Amy,” is forthright and to the point, one is jealous of the other. Timothee Chalamet comes into his own at the end of the film, but when first introduced to him, he seems hesitant. What I enjoyed is the back-and-forth over publishing and rights and money that goes on between Jo and Mr. Dashwood. It is reminiscent of what happens in the first “True Grit” movie between Kim Darby and Strother Martin about a horse. Just who is getting the best of whom?
The adaptation by Greta Gerwig shows us independent women in the 19th century and what they had to do to present themselves. Believe in oneself, failure will happen but get up and try again, and sometimes, what you have to give up in order to succeed. The road traveled is a wide one, but the road to understand oneself can be narrow and hard to find...but it is worth it.
Copyright 2020 Marie Asner