Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ Demonstrates the Power of Renewed Resonance Through Reorganizing

3 Comments

CREDIT: Wilson Webb/Columbia/Sony Pictures

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper

Director: Greta Gerwig

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: PG for A Few Bloody Knuckles and General Adolescence

Release Date: December 25, 2019

I’m a big advocate for the value of consuming a story in whatever order you damn well please. If you get engrossed in a movie halfway through and then watch the beginning at some future point, then bully on you. If you watch the last season of a popular TV show first and then catch up on previous seasons in a random zigzagging order, that sounds fascinating. If you always skip ahead to the last paragraph of a novel and also reread your favorite chapters before you’re done the whole thing, then it sounds like you’re someone who enjoys experimenting. To all of you who fit in any of those categories, you’ve got a kindred spirit in Greta Gerwig, who plays mix-and-match with her rendition of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 semi-autobiographical novel Little Women, one of the most beloved and oft-adapted works of American fiction.

If I were to extend my advocacy for watching something in whatever order you like to its logical end, then I could say that you could watch this Little Women in an even more chronologically mixed-up fashion than it already is. (Or you could go in the opposite direction, and I bet there is someone out there who will one day re-edit this film into a more temporally linear fashion.) But Gerwig’s chosen order of events is far from arbitrary. The opening scene and one of the final moments especially underscore the themes that she wants to bring to the surface.

There is a general air of light postmodernism to this movie, in the sense that there is a tacit understanding that the majority of the audience is already familiar with the story. Thus, Gerwig begins with scenes in which the little women are closer to, if not already, grown adults. The most iconic episodes from earlier in the March sisters’ lives do not need to be rehashed, at least not right away. Instead, Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) kicks things off by bounding into a publishing office to sell a story she’s written. It’s bought by a Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts), but he also tells her that if her main character is a girl, she must be married (or dead) by the end. Chances are that most viewers know that these are indeed the fates that await the March sisters, but a collective smirk is likely to form across the crowd at this moment, because we also know that the entire purpose of Little Women is that these significant lives are not just reduced to their expected conclusions.

The other essential moment comes when the far-flung temporal settings have caught up with each other, and Jo is fretting to her sisters that her completed novel, based on her own family life, is about a trivial topic and nothing important. Even though she is mightily invested in her own work, she is still subscribing to the idea that only “important” subjects are really worthy of being written about in novels. But then her youngest, always fiercely opinionated sister Amy (Florence Pugh) insists that the mere act of writing about a subject confers importance upon it. And so, because Gerwig is telling this story once again, and because it is clearly a labor of love for her, and because Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen are there alongside her and Ronan and Pugh to round out and bring to life the March sisterhood, all of that is the reason why Little Women is important in 2019.

Little Women is Recommended If You Like: Revisiting the classics

Grade: 4 out of 5 Adaptations

‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ Demonstrates the Life-Changing Power of Meeting Someone Who Treats You Like the Most Important Person in the World

2 Comments

CREDIT: Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Starring: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, Enrico Colantoni, Christine Lahti, Tammy Blanchard

Director: Marielle Heller

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG for A Small Skirmish

Release Date: November 22, 2019

How can the cinema industry justify releasing a Mr. Rogers biopic just a little over a year after a documentary about the longtime PBS host came out? This isn’t the first time that two such films about the same subject have come out in such close proximity, and while at first blush it might appear to be overkill, this is actually an excellent example in which both movies are distinctly valuable. As A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood demonstrates, people like Fred Rogers lived lives that were rich enough to have multiple stories worth telling, thanks to the other lives they touched dearly. One of those lives was that of journalist Tom Junod, whose 1998 Esquire article “Can You Say… Hero?” inspired the film. Matthew Rhys plays Junod avatar Lloyd Vogel, who believes he’s meeting just another interview subject but instead finds himself a therapist and a dear friend.

Director Marielle Heller makes a fantastic filmmaking choice to open up Beautiful Day, presenting a framing device in which Lloyd’s story is introduced as a segment on an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mr. Rogers (thoroughly inhabited by Tom Hanks) is showing his viewers a board featuring pictures of some of his friends, including his new friend Lloyd, whose photo sticks out distressingly, thanks to a nasty bruise between Lloyd’s eyes and a wild look on his face. It’s a jarring image in this context (for multiple reasons), but Mr. Rogers gently guides us through it with such spectacular empathy, informing us that Lloyd is having a hard time forgiving someone who hurt him. That someone is Lloyd’s father Jerry (Chris Cooper), who has suddenly reappeared in Lloyd’s life decades after sleeping around on his terminally ill wife and abandoning his young children. Lloyd’s default state when Jerry is around is a fiery coil of resentment, but luckily his next assignment has him meeting someone who treats whomever he is talking as the most important person in the world.

Lloyd’s life and profession have trained him to be skeptical, which is how he initially approaches Mr. Rogers. Surely and obviously, this man who speaks so gently and fastidiously must be putting on an act whenever the cameras are rolling. But what Tom learns, and what we all get to witness, is just how genuine Fred is. It takes practice to be as thoughtful and concerned as he is, but that effort makes his persona no less real. Instead, it makes it even more powerful and effective. We should all be as concerned for and interested about the people in our lives as Fred is to Lloyd. When a film is as useful an empathy how-to guide as A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is, it is truly something special.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is Recommended If You Like: Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Wonder, Magazines

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Special Friends