Movie Review | Little Women
Movie summary: Four sisters come of age in America in the aftermath of the Civil War. (IMDb)
I've never read Little Women and never seen any of the other adaptations, nor had I seen any of the marketing for this movie other than maybe a couple of still images at best. To say that I was going into this movie blind would be a massive understatement. For it to turn out to be one of my favourite movies of the year was one of the most pleasant surprises possible.
Apart from a couple of wobbles - the first two or three minutes had me worried it was going to be on the level of a BBC Sunday evening drama - Little Women is one of the most flawlessly executed pieces of film-making in 2019 and so completely immerses you in the world of these women that you'll wish you could spend more time with them when the credits start rolling.
It helps that the casting of the four central characters is so perfect, with all four actresses delivering wonderful performances, that the constant shuffling back and forth between them all and between the youth and adult lives never becomes difficult to follow, because each of them has such a strong sense of identity that you can track where they are in their lives in any particular scene.
I would warn that Little Women flashes back and forth between the youth of the titular women and their adult lives with a high degree of frequency, but director Greta Gerwig and her team use a pretty nifty lighting trick, bathing all the past scenes in a warm, golden glow while the present day is colder and more starkly lit - a very useful and intuitive way of letting audiences keep track of what is happening when.
Of the central four characters, it's Beth (Eliza Scanlen) who 'suffers' most, mainly alternating between being shy and sick. What attention she does get shows that she is a genuinely lovely young woman, which is only reinforced by the impact she has on her sisters, who don't really tell us what we should be feeling, because we've already seen it and know it for ourselves.
It's a rare instance of a movie both showing and telling the audience something without it feeling repetitive, because the 'showing' is focused on Beth and the 'telling' is from her sisters, so the movie is never retreading the same material - it might be all about Beth's nature, but it comes from two different viewpoints.
Emma Watson's Meg is next, with what feels like a truncated story arc. The events of her life - especially her adult life with her husband - don't quite have the same impact as Amy or Jo's stories, but I'm almost glad that it feels so slight as it allows us to see Meg interacting with her sisters more in what is the best performance I've ever seen from Watson.
Florence Pugh's Amy has probably the second highest amount of screen-time and Pugh brings such a level of positive energy to her performance that she's probably my favourite of the sisters, although that energy is desperately needed thanks to her adult life separating her from her family. It's incredible work on Pugh's part to make her feel so young in the past scenes and yet so grown-up in the adult scenes, while being undeniably the same character despite her change in temperament.
With Little Women and Midsommar, Florence Pugh has had an amazing 2019 and is definitely my actress of the year with the work she does in both movies and I can't wait to see her in Black Widow next year. Her talent for depicting contrasting natures that feel natural to the characters to such a degree that the don't feel contrasting at all is an incredible gift and she deserves many awards.
If there is any central character, it has to be Jo (Saoirse Ronan), who is as energetic as Amy, but in a different way. While Amy feels like a bundle of enthusiasm that struggles to stay contained, Jo is fiercely passionate and doesn't want to be treated like a 'typical' woman at all. The problem is that she feels so determined to be an atypical women that it's actually damaging to her life.
Fortunately, Ronan is a phenomenal actress capable of making such a driven, hard-headed character so likeable that her stubbornness comes across as justified rather than a flaw - right up to the point where she admits that she is lonely because of the way she has acted in her life. Jo could've easily been an irritating character in the hands of a lesser actress, but Ronan is too good to let that happen.
With so many characters who are so similar in their treatment of each other, yet having their own lives, especially with the jumps back and forth between various points in their lives, Little Women could've have ended up a jumbled mess, but Greta Gerwig proves just how amazing a director she is by ensuring this doesn't happen. Writing it out like that might make it sound very simple, but it really, really isn't and just goes to show how supremely talented a film-maker she is.
From a story-telling perspective, the only problem I had was when a certain character exits the movie and it's probably more on me than the movie as what happens was likely directorial intent. After this particular exit, the movie feels a little aimless for the following 5-10 minutes - which reflects how the characters are feeling, but was the only time that my immersion in the world of Little Women came close to breaking.
The only real issue I have with the movie is the score. Even then, only a part of it. Yes, Little Women is that good that I have to nit-pick like this to find a faults with it. In general, it's very much like a lot of film scores these days: the music might well enhance a scene without being anything noticeable in itself. It's just a shame it's not always like that.
In happier scenes, the score sometimes feels a little too light and lacking in genuine emotion. I have to admit that I don't know whether this is really the music not being up to scratch, or the actresses being so good at radiating pure love, joy and happiness that any composer would've struggled to come up with music to match the talent on show.
Little Women is a great, great movie that I wasn't expecting to enjoy anywhere near as much as I did. The performances of the four March sisters are so good, containing so much honest, happy emotion, that you'll wish this movie was an hour longer than it is. I simply cannot wait to see it again when it's officially released so I can spend more time with these little women.
Why a 10/10? Did you see how pathetically insignificant my nit-picking was to try and find some kind of fault with this movie? And they only stand out because of how damned good everything else is here - it's not that there's no weak performances, there's nothing less than absolute excellence on display here from start to finish.
If I'm being completely honest, Little Women isn't a movie that I would've chosen to see normally, but I'm so glad I did and have to thank my friend for convincing me to go and see it with her. If I had seen this at a later date, I would've been kicking myself for not seeing it as soon as I could, which is what I recommend everyone else should do.