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

This Is a Movie Review: The Circle

Leave a comment

This post was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Karen Gillan, Patton Oswalt, John Boyega

Director: James Ponsoldt

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13, Because When You Have Cameras Everywhere, You’re Gonna See Something

Release Date: April 28, 2017

As the tagline to The Circle informs us, “Knowing everything is good. Knowing everything is better.” As the plot of The Circle demonstrates to us, nailing a tone is good; nailing several different tones is really hard.

This film’s titular company should feel intimately familiar to anyone alive and plugged-in in 2017. The Circle is basically Google and Facebook combined, and considering the extensive connectivity in today’s major tech and social companies, that combination is not exactly far from reality. Throw the NSA and its massive data collection into this stew, bandy about disturbing maxims like “secrets are lies,” and you’ve got yourself a formula for a relevant paranoid (or not so paranoid) thriller.

Success in such an endeavor requires a protagonist that makes sense or at least one whose motivations can be tracked. Alas, Mae Holland (Emma Watson), the Circle’s latest recruit, swings wildly between suspicion and full-bore acceptance of the surveillance state. She is wildly uncomfortable in a standout early scene when she is indoctrinated into the corporate culture, but soon enough she is working alongside the company heads (Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt) and pushing forward their most privacy-invading initiatives. A mysterious Circle employee (John Boyega) warns Mae about the dangers of what lies ahead, and it is never clear if she trusts him or completely ignores him. Ultimately, she seeks to expose those at the top, but an oddly pitched final shot prompts the question, “To what end?”

The one unqualified success of The Circle is the series of online comments that populate the screen at various points. Mae volunteers to record her whole life to demonstrate her belief in putting cameras everywhere, and her online followers chime in with their various observations. Most of them are along the lines of “You go, Mae!” or “Should we be watching this?” But every tenth one is some hilariously banal declaration like “making a sandwich” or “time to go poo.” This type of humor hits you sideways and buoys The Circle – if only this sort of controlled unpredictability could have been maintained throughout.

The Circle is Recommended If You Like: Nerve, Evil Tom Hanks, YouTube Comments, One More Chance to See Bill Paxton on the Big Screen

Grade: 3 out of 5 Cheeses From Last Year

This Is a Movie Review Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

1 Comment

What up with Disney ransacking its vault to remake its own animated hits into (mostly[-ish]) live-action versions? This is not an inherently bad idea. These are stories that have been told over and over (often in fairy tale form) and will continue to be told over and over, so why not spruce them up with some 21st Century Pizzazz?

What does new-flavor Beauty and the Beast offer over the 1991 toon? Belle’s an inventor, but that does not factor in too much. There is an “exclusively gay moment” for Le Fou, but it is so inconsequential that you might need a study guide to locate it (I certainly did). So ultimately, this is about some legends of acting and singing giving it a whirl. Nothing earth-shattering, but we’re in good hands.

I give Beauty and the Beast 3 Rose Petals out of 5 Snowy Days in June.