Little Women

I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did.  Director Greta Gerwig finds a new way to tell the old familiar story by telling it in flashback (giving the story the veneer of a lost world it probably always had) and combining it with the actual story of Louisa May Alcott the writer.  The flashback method results in some jumbling of events towards the end – it’s never clear, for example, when Aunt March finally dies.  But mostly it sticks closely to the written page, including some lines of modern-sounding dialogue that are actually in the book but haven’t been included in prior adaptations.  Every adaptation, of course, is colored by its own period – is it possible that, 150 years after the book was written, we are finally seeing on the screen the story Alcott actually wrote?

All the performances are excellent. In the smaller roles, I really liked Chris Cooper as Laurie’s grandfather.

Special nod to the costume design:  We’ve come a long way since Hollywood dressed the actors in Pride and Prejudice in wildly ahistorical hoop skirts.  But good costume design also gives clues to a character’s personality.  Even though the fashions of the day are unfamiliar to us, somehow we know that Jo is wearing her clothes wrong.

Set design karma.  Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father, was a dreamer who never managed to support his family properly, leaving Louisa’s mother to rely on the kindness of family and friends, and not just during the Civil War either.  One of his ventures was Fruitlands, a utopian community (and advance guard hippie commune) set up in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts, about an hour west of Boston.  The venture failed, of course, but the original house is now a museum – and it appears as Meg and John’s house later in the movie.

Highly recommended, and not just for younger women.

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