Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Now and Then: LITTLE WOMEN

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women faithfully adapts that novel’s cozy qualities, its warm-hearted temperament, closely observed sentiment, and its easy grip on its audience’s sympathies. The story of the four March daughters and their quiet domestic pleasantries and tragedies, relationships and developments, is put across faithfully with great spirited sisterly energy, as loving and honest as the best, closest sibling friendships. Certainly, Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel of Civil War-era family life has produced plenty faithful adaptations before. Gerwig casts well, keeps a good pace, shepherds expert production design and textured cinematography, dramatizes every memorable scene, and has a keen eye for filmic detail. But what really lifts it off and sets it apart is the structure. She takes the two halves of the book — the early younger days where the young ladies are first flowering into adolescence and figuring out themselves and world; and then as slightly older young women as they mature into the adult lives they’ll live — and places them side by side. There are many other adaptations to reiterate the text in sequential order. Here it’s both familiar and fresh, enlivened by the contrast. Cutting intuitively between these two periods of time, each with their own conflicts and concerns, yet intertwined through the personalities of the women involved, there are echoes and comparisons, connections and collisions. Viewing the events in this way is a freshly productive way of understanding the classic story, of seeing anew how the decisions and personalties of girlhood directly inform and shape the outcomes of womanhood as they grow and change, either fulfilling their early dreams or deciding to go about them in a different way.

There’s great maturity and inquisitiveness here, seeing the grown-up concerns of money and careers and family obligations set against the children’s imagination and fervor and mood. It also serves to stack moments of great emotional peaks on top of each other, weddings atop funerals, recoveries atop deathly sickness, reunions atop separations, loneliness atop togetherness. And yet each scene works splendidly on its own, apart from the brilliant structural conceit, Gerwig imbuing the moments with tender humanity and deep wells of feeling. Saoirse Ronan (Jo), Emma Watson (Meg), Florence Pugh (Amy), and Eliza Scanlen (Beth), deftly balancing between the timelines with depth, energy, and poise, make believable sisters, jostling their differing personalties and divergent paths against each other over a consistent underpinning of love. (The rest of the cast — Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Bob Odenkirk, Louis Garrel — is perfectly assembled out of character actors who bring their decades of good work and reliable screen presences to the overwhelming sense of comfort and compassion, even in hard times, in this telling.) With an enveloping spirit of goodwill, charting the family’s dramas in sweet, sharp episodic detail, Gerwig builds to a climax of such tricky dexterity, an intertwining of plot catharsis with a sweetly considered, effervescently casual metatextuality that pays off with delicate, simple visual flourishes and an overflow of emotion. It sees passionately in Jo a creative spirit, all too aware of the compromises expected of her gender and class, headstrong in pursuit of her ambitions, and heartrendingly perceptive about her strengths and weaknesses, borne aloft in the end by the strength of her own story. What a thrill that Gerwig has not only built a fully satisfying, deeply moving retelling of a classic novel, but also builds into the bones a compelling argument about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment