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

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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

Movie Review: ‘Cold Pursuit’ Brings Liam Neeson’s Revenge Shenanigans to the Rocky Mountains

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CREDIT: Doane Gregory

Starring: Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Emmy Rossum, William Forsythe, Julia Jones, Domenick Lombardozzi, Raoul Trujillo, Benjamin Hollingsworth, John Doman, Aleks Paunovic, Christopher Logan, Nathaniel Arcand, Ben Cotton, Tom Jackson, Mitchell Saddleback, Laura Dern

Director: Hans Petter Moland

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: R for Drug Content, Angry Man Profanity, and Truly Wild Death Scenes

Release Date: February 8, 2019

Cold Pursuit appears to take place in a scenario where the souls of everyone involved have disappeared. That makes sense, because stripping away all of your morality is just about necessary to make working for a drug cartel or going on a reign of vengeance bearable to one’s psyche. This is perhaps the bleakest of any Liam Neeson actioner, but that darkness is alleviated by the fact that it is also the most offbeat. Neeson plays Nels Coxman, a snowplow driver in a Rocky Mountain resort town. He’s just been named Citizen of the Year, but now he has ventured out to kill every member of a notorious cartel who have killed his son. His wife (Laura Dern) leaves him as soon as she realizes what he is up to, but we stick with him, not because the revenge tastes so sweet (it doesn’t, or at least it isn’t designed to), but because the killings all go down in such deadpan fashion. That tends to happen in such a harsh and unforgiving climate and terrain as this one.

Nels’ primary adversary is the drug lord Viking (Tom Bateman), who is the breed of testosterone in a suit who tells his son that “all the answers” he’ll need to in life are in Lord of the Flies. His performance is just the right mix of hammy and deranged to make Cold Pursuit palatable. Without him or the whole film’s gallows humor ethos, this would be the type of movie to make me despair about the end of civilization. In a battle between the soulless, style is essential for the audience’s sustenance, and director Hans Petter Moland has style like you could never imagine. It also helps that there are some flashes of thriving humanity, in the form of a love story for one of the cartel members as well as a dogged detective played by Emmy Rossum. But for the most part, this is “No Country for Those with Love in Their Hearts.”

Cold Pursuit is Recommended If You Like: Taken, Fargo, Scandinavian Humor

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Tree Impalements

This Is a Movie Review: Wilson

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

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Isabella Amara, Judy Greer

Director: Craig Johnson

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: R for Fun-Loving Sociopathy

Release Date: March 24, 2017 (Limited)

If you found out that you had a daughter that you thought was aborted but was actually given up for adoption, would you track her down to cheer her on from afar like a proud papa? If so, that is an understandable instinct, but you might want to be discrete, considering the typical legal arrangements that prevent birth parents from contacting their adopted children. But Wilson the movie and Wilson the Woody Harrelson-portrayed title character have no such reservations. Instead, this father introduces himself to his long-lost daughter by mercilessly beating up her bullies.

Based on a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes (who also wrote the screenplay), Wilson the film at first glance appears to be a Misanthropist’s Guide to Life. But while Wilson the man does have major problems with humankind’s typical priorities, he actually does like people. He just wishes they would not so readily buy into the boring routine that society prescribes. His love is a playfully confrontational one. Plenty of people adopt a cutesy singsong voice when talking to dogs; but it is those few among us like Wilson who use that voice to spout some insane life philosophy. Or at least, it sounds like insanity to everyone else, but for him, it is the only way to be.

Harrelson emphasizes Wilson’s fun-loving nature; his joy is infectious, but also dangerous. He can string you along for a weekend getaway, or a delightful afternoon at the park, but he could also lead you behind bars. The legal troubles that bedevil Wilson feel unfair, but also perfectly understandable. Whatever dichotomy there appears to be here is less a contradiction and more a yin/yang. Wilson is not railing against phonies – he just wants everyone to loosen up. His film is a slightly unnerving adventure, but you gotta come along for the ride, man.

Wilson is Recommended If You LikeFight Club But Wish It Were More Slice-of-Life, EnlightenedNebraska

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Cute Dogsitters