In an ongoing series, Drew Trotter of the Consortium of Christian Study Centers is sharing his reflections on this year’s Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees. For the whole series, click here. Image Credit: Promotional image, from image gallery at official film site (Fair Use: Criticism)
Little Women (PG, 135 mins.)
Director: Greta Gerwig. Writer: Greta Gerwig (screenplay). Louisa May Alcott (novel). Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laura Dern, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlon, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk.
Genre: Drama, Romance.
Plot Outline: Jo March reflects back and forth on her life, telling the beloved story of the March sisters – four young women each determined to live life on their own terms.
-Summary drawn from IMDB
Little Women has perhaps the most controversy surrounding it of this year’s nominees because of the Academy’s failure to nominate its director, Greta Gerwig, for the award given to the best director of the year. Ultimately, the question of recognition should not obscure the question of achievement, and most feel that Gerwig has pulled off a very difficult feat: retaining viewer interest throughout a two and a quarter hours film that contains little action, an extremely well-known story, and a setting in a time almost two hundred years ago. She does this and does it well; this rendition of the Alcott novel stands head and shoulders above the most recent version (1994, starring Wynona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst and others), even though the casts of the two movies are both laden with superb actors. Much of that standing is due to Gerwig’s direction, especially the use of non-linear storytelling, i.e. moving back and forth between different time periods in the story, one of the most distinctive elements of the film’s structure. The device is confusing at times but usually effective as a means of holding the viewer’s attention.
This story, if you’re not familiar with it, is about the four March sisters growing up in New England during the Civil War. Illness, love, vocation, family, art, and social awareness all enter into the plot in different ways, all affecting one or more of the girls. The sisters are well-cast, a more important element of this film than it is in many films, and each one does a superb job, two of them (Saoirse Ronan as Jo and Florence Pugh as Amy) garnering acting Oscar nominations. The pacing of the film is exquisite, and the sets, while not spectacular, are adequate to the task. As usual for great films, the supporting cast is very, very good with Laura Dern (Marmee March, the girls’ mother), Timothée Chalamet (Laurie Laurence), and Tracy Letts (the publisher, Mr. Dashwood) turning in the best performances.
Little Women is so much more than what has often been called a “women’s picture.” It is a universal story of family life with sibling love and rivalry at the center, but with plenty of side themes like the question of life’s purpose, the importance of giving to others less fortunate than ourselves, the reasons for marriage and their comparison with each other, how to deal with change, and when to stick to principles and when to compromise. All these are beautifully explored in this exquisite time-proven story.