It’s safe to say after the critical success of 2017’s Lady Bird, a lot of eyes were going to be on Greta Gerwig and her next project. I must say, choosing to adapt a classic novel to the big screen for a new generation is a brave move for only your second film.
Full disclosure, I still haven’t seen Lady Bird, it didn’t get a wide showing where I live and my schedule doesn’t really allow much time to catch up on stuff I’ve missed, but several trusted correspondents have sang its praises since release, so that’s what I have to go on.
Judging by her direction here, I can only imagine it being as wonderful as people say, but we get ahead of ourselves…
Set in the time period during the final days of the American Civil War, and the time immediately following, four sisters struggle to find their way in the world that seemingly has their life planned out.
In case the makers of Black Christmas are somehow reading this; this is how you do feminist film-making. You tell a story from a woman’s perspective that can be universally sympathised with, turning the subject of women into a human struggle, rather than a struggle of the ‘other’ as is so often the case.
Now I know my being a man means that my opinion can be easily discounted in the field of feminist theory, this a universal story told from the perspective of women that can be empathised with whatever your standing. It is skilful not only in this regard but in the way it transplants a story set in a historical period and somehow makes it apply to modern times, it still feels as fresh and relevant now as it did when the story was first published.
As this is my first experience of Gerwig as a director, I feel she may be one of her generations stand-outs if this film is anything to go by. Her use of colours to indicate a change of mood specifically caught my eye, it’s that kind of attention to detail that can fly over a lot of people’s heads, but really adds something when you spot it.
She also uses long static shots to great effect, emphasising the weight these characters carry, one scene in particular that sticks in my mind involves a wide two-shot of characters discussing their lot in life and the way it is framed and directed really creates a visual representation of the divide between the two, however close they may be.
A particular treat is how the relationship between the four sisters is written, making them feel like four pieces of one distinct entity, when one part is taken away, the others falter, and that shows when we see how much the sisters depend on each other for emotional support, even though they argue like typical sisters, there’s an invisible, but no less strong, bond connecting them throughout the narrative.
Speaking of the sisters, they were each played to a tee by their respective actresses. Assembling an all-star cast, Gerwig directs phenomenal performances around all sides of the film, each sister has their own distinct character traits that set them apart, never once making it feel like there could be one less character, no matter how symbiotic their relationship.
Saoirse Ronan is the narrative heart of the story, being the kind of black sheep of the sisters, and she carries this sublimely, hers is a prickly character that could have been easily over-stated, but she remains the balance at the heart of the story, sacrificing so much to benefit those around her, not just character-wise, but she allows herself room to not be the biggest character on screen at all times, measuring her outbursts of emotion permanently.
The cast is uniformly strong; Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen round out the sisters, and they all bring their best to their parts, Pugh is a particular stand-out, showing a formidable range after her part in this years wrestling biopic Fighting With My Family, and their supported on all sides by some phenomenal talent. Laura Dern and Meryl Streep both add their considerable experience, and the supremely talented Timothee Chalamet comes damn close to stealing the whole film.
In conclusion, this is a film that comes together as a rich tapestry, in an ode to the shared bonds of sisterhood. Littered with stand-out performances and with some really eye-catching direction and cinematography, Little Women will both break and lift your heart in equal measure. A truly special film from a special talent, who I feel we have only began to see the start of.