There are certain novels which seem to be the subject of endless cinematic re-imagining. Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice, A Christmas Carol…all of them have been adapted time and time again, with much debate on which film version does the source material justice.
Here we have another book, perpetually adapted to the silver screen for audiences to watch again and again; Little Women. Greta Gerwig’s version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel is the eighth such version and comes hot on the heels of 2018’s modernised telling of the story.
Last year’s adaptation was critically panned, with critics ripping into the dumbing down of the story and sanitisation of some of the grittier elements of the story. Conversely, Gerwig’s effort has been met with broad praise from critics and a raft of award nominations, as well as awards for Gerwig and actor Florence Pugh.
Allow me to muddy the waters. This is a good film, but I can’t be as complimentary as most. While the film is wonderfully produced, with stunning sets, costumes and score, it fails to hit the mark in several key areas.
The core relationship in Little Women, that of four sisters with distinct personalities, circumstances and goals, is always hard to pin down. The cast do a fine job as individuals, Arriety star Saorise Ronan offering a standout performance in the role of the driven, literary Jo and Emma Watson is a star addition to any film’s cast. But as a group, they lack chemistry, and authenticity. Emotional scenes between the sisters are at times overacted, while more laid back, character building sections of the film exude a certain tweeness, especially when romantic interest Theodore (Timothée Chalamet) is added to the mix. The character is too heavily influenced by Hollywood norms, losing too many classic characteristics as he morphs into a modern man in period clothing, his actions and mannerisms simply not believable in the setting of the film.
Gerwig adopts an interesting approach to storytelling, with the narrative jumping back and forth through time. While this is sometimes a little jarring, it does put crucial events into perspective, allowing the viewer greater context for characters’ reactions and emotions, also ensuring the film focuses on its core themes rather than becoming mired in the minutiae of the narrative.
Production values are excellent throughout. The sets are lovingly and authentically built, with each background providing a pleasing aesthetic distraction. Camerawork, lighting and costume are similarly well done while Alexandre Desplat’s award-nominated score is superb.
It’s a solid effort from Gerwig in which she exhibits her flair for storytelling and directing. Hopefully it will stand as the 21st century’s definitive adaption, meaning film industry talent can focus on other stories, rather than more endless retellings of Alcott’s novel.
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Coming of age, Period, Drama | 2019 | 26 December 2019 (UK) | Columbia Pictures |Dir.Greta Gerwig | Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell