Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, is, in my humble opinion, one of the best film adaptations of a book that has ever been made. An opinion I hope that after reading this, you will wholeheartedly support.
Having read the book myself, I was at first sceptical of the way the narrative was portrayed by flitting between past and present. However, this unique way of telling this classic tale conjures a fresh perspective on a story so well loved that it has prompted at least eight different screen adaptations, including a recent miniseries broadcast in 2018.
“…despite not featuring in it herself; Greta Gerwig was the true star of this film.”
After a multitude of interpretations by countless different screenwriters and directors, it is admirable that Greta Gerwig was so successful in prompting such a positive response. Some may argue that this box office success was driven by an all-star cast – Saoirse Ronan. Emma Watson. Florence Pugh. Eliza Scanlan. Timothée Chalamet. Meryl Streep. Laura Dern.
However, while this may have been what drew audiences to the film initially, me included, there was no doubt in my mind when I left the cinema that despite not featuring in it herself; Greta Gerwig was the true star of this film.
Her genius is evident through her unique approach to the screenplay, which she described in an insightful interview with John August and Craig Mazin in the podcast Scriptnotes. Her process differs from the conventional, particularly with how she handled a pivotal scene between Amy (Florence Pugh) and Laurie (Timothée Chalamet). In this scene, Amy expresses her belief that marriage is financial due to women’s position in society.
“Don’t sit there and tell me that marriage is not an economic proposition because it is”.
This was not only a powerful message highlighting the lack of agency women possessed at this time, but it also may surprise you to find that Gerwig only penned these iconic lines a mere ten minutes before the scene was filmed – to avoid it being cut from the original script altogether for being deemed too long.
This only adds to the remarkability of her storytelling abilities, that such a powerful speech that does not feature in the book could be produced so spontaneously and leave such a lasting impression on viewers who had previously only considered Amy to be the troublesome younger sister of the story.
“From the wonderfully powerful speeches, to simultaneously disjointed and logical chronology, this film was truly a work of art.”
Another iconic speech which features in the film is that of Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) who vehemently expresses that ‘women have minds as well as hearts’. While die-hard Alcott fans will have noticed that this was taken from another of her books and may therefore see this as sacrilege, I found this to be a welcome deviation from the original narrative. It is not just a poignantly relevant speech complimenting the atmosphere of growing female empowerment in our contemporary society, but painted Jo in a more vulnerable light – an aspect of her character not often explored in previous adaptations.
Another example of Gerwig’s significant narrative changes, alongside the unorthodox timeline of the film, was the inclusion of the book ‘Little Women’ being published – blurring the lines between the character of Jo and author Louisa May Alcott. Surprisingly, I found this made complete sense and added to the sense of satisfaction at the end of the film, because we see Jo happy and accomplished both through her work and in love.
“… the fact that it was not more successful during awards season is not only a crying shame for the film, but also female filmmakers in general.”
Despite the genius which emanates from this film, critics, while nominating it, ultimately favoured other popular films during awards season – the Oscars being a particularly hard blow to bear. It was not just me who thought so. Actress Laura Dern dedicated her acceptance speech for best supporting actress in Marriage Story to the director in a statement of solidarity, and in a recent interview with Deadline, Florence Pugh exasperatedly stated that she couldn’t believe this was happening again.
As sad as it was for Gerwig not to win, the lack of representation of female film-makers across the board was also something which actress and host Natalie Portman picked up on, as was reflected through her dress which gave a subtle nod to those not recognized – Gerwig included.
“All we can do is hope that we see an improvement in the years to come and that in future, female writers and directors… will get the recognition that they deserve.”
However, contrary to popular outrage, Gerwig’s inspiring response in an interview for The New York Times was not only that of gratitude (for the film’s nominations) but also optimism. This can only be seen as a sign of progress for female filmmakers who must just continue to persevere because, ‘that’s all we can do: continue to make the work, make the work, make the work’.
From the wonderfully powerful speeches, to simultaneously disjointed and logical chronology, this film was truly a work of art and the fact that it was not more successful during awards season is not only a crying shame for the film, but also female filmmakers in general. All we can do is hope that we see an improvement in the years to come and that, in future, female writers and directors, as well as such pioneering adaptations of classic stories, will get the recognition that they deserve.
Image use license here.