Greta Gerwig’s Second Foray as Director is a Modern Take On A Classic Tale
Little Women is a magical journey into the world of Louisa May Alcott’s novel of the same name. Feeling like a modern romance film rather than the stuffy period piece it could very easily have been. Gerwig’s writing and direction makes this the pinnacle of classic adaptation for the 21st century.
I will admit that I have not seen any previous adaptations of the story nor have I in fact read the book myself, so seeing the tale told for the first time in this way may have let me connect to the characters more deeply then if I already had a preconceived notion of who they were. The performances definitely assisted with this, particularly Saiorse Ronan as Jo and Timothee Chalamet as Laurie, as they created such believable and lovable characters that it was hard not to become emotionally invested; once you get past the opening chaos of having very strong unique personalities all together on screen that is.
What really stood out to me about the film was the structure of the story, which unfolded so effortlessly between the past and present revealing just the right amount of information as you went. What I imagine was probably a linear style of book has been transformed into something that provides much more intrigue and audience investment. There are incredibly well thought out parallels within the shots and editing to reflect on similar moments in both childhood memories and present womanhood creating staggering emotional impact at particular points throughout the film. It is also this structure that removes the film out of the stereotypical period drama genre despite still being set in the period of the original source material.
What truly makes this adaptation a modern take for me, on top of the structure, are the themes of gender roles, independence, and love. The societal and economic pressure of the time for a woman to marry though seemingly outlandish to the modern movie goer relates to similar societal pressures on women in the 21st century to be married, have children, and settle down. Economically it may not be quite the same as back then but the presence of this theme within the film points out how long women have had to think about their futures much more carefully than men ever have.
In saying that though the idea that one can still be a woman and make her own way in world yet have room in that journey for a romantic relationship is something that is explored through the character of Jo March. It struck cords for me in a similar fashion to an article I wrote regarding TV series The Bold Type last year. There is this idea that if you reject societal feminine norms in certain aspects of your life that you are betraying what you stand for by ever wanting to indulge in other stereo-typically feminine things. In Little Women this manifests as love. I don’t agree with this ideal but it appears to be a common theme that being an independent woman means you must stand alone from everyone and everything that makes you appear like other women. But of course there is room for love there as well, a lesson that Jo learns throughout the course of the film represented beautifully through the final scene with the book publisher.
Little Women is a stunningly gorgeous film to look at but is also emotionally intelligent and adapted perfectly for the modern audience. A romance film can include a developed personal journey of its main female protagonist and as we strive for more stories about women by women it is important to remember that girl power is so much more than being strong and independent. It is also being vulnerable, being flawed, and being in love.
Little Women is currently playing in Australian cinemas.