Reviews of Little Women (2017) and related work

Little Women (2017Moving picture, 3.0 hours)

Seen in 2020.

The actors seem too mature to play people in their early- to mid teens, and it’s a curious compromise between realism and romanticized period drama (with Princes Charming, swelling music, and even plain Jo looking good), but Angela Lansbury is very good.

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Little Women (2019Moving picture, 134 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Seen at a jam-packed Draken as the opening of GIFF 2020.

Laurie-and-Amy get a lot more narrative weight than they do in the 2017 version, which is good. I also appreciate Chris Cooper’s Mr. Laurence, who brings a little bit of Fanny and Alexander (1982) to his appreciation of Beth’s piano playing. Streep is too comical, worse than Lansbury. The leads do a better job playing teenagers in oversized clothes, despite their age, but Saoirse Ronan is even more unreasonably pretty than Maya Hawke as the self-consciously ugly Jo. The overall mood is too similar; basically the same romanticism, albeit with tighter editing, superior tonal control and the advantage of budget.

The cross-dressing men’s club scene is very good. The added discussions of marriage as an economic proposition are reasonable and relevant, but the metafictional ending where everyone marries or dies as if because of Dashwood’s writing advice is cowardly. Openly changing the ending for the adaptation would have been a stronger statement. The last blissful crowd scenes remind me of Antonia’s Line (1995), a much more daring production in that regard. The writing of the novel within the film is itself flawed, since the novel is portrayed as breaking ground for showing domestic realism, which the film does only in brief glimpses. Vastly more time is spent showing how men print the book than on how anyone cooks the food, washes the clothes or cleans the house: the domestic work of women. The film repeats even Amy breaking the ice, telegraphing this more clearly than the 2017 version, and making just as poor a show of it. Amy also paints in crinoline, alone, which looks absurd.

Pleasant; not up to the standard of Gerwig’s other work.

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