By Afra Nariman
Little Women (2019)
Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep
Jo March (played by Saoirse Ronan) is an aspiring writer who’s life revolves around her family, her writing and her determination to be great. The film follows the adventures of Jo and her 3 sisters over the course of multiple time periods as they grow up and each grow in their own lives. The story follows Jo’s path to writing her first published novel, what becomes the story that unfolds on screen: Little Women.
Although Little Women was nominated for an Oscar, I don’t think enough people talked about this film. 2019 was a famously incredible year for cinema, but Little Women is near the top of the list when it comes to the best films of the year. Greta Gerwig has created a masterful adaptation of the extremely famous and immortal story. Gerwig has been a staple in the movie-world, as both an actress and a filmmaker, for her roles in some of the most inspiring, uplifting, empowering and relatable films for young women. Her resume in both fields is impeccable and Little Women is among her most impressive work.
The film communicates through its spectrum of represented emotions. It makes you laugh, it’ll make you sad, angry, happy, excited, etc. Even though it takes place in a much older time period, it can be extremely relatable, especially for young women who can relate to Jo’s determination to prove sexist stereotypes wrong and be appreciated for her value and brilliance, in her case as a writer.
The film does an excellent job at sucking you into the story and making you feel like you know the characters in the story and ultimately allows you to feel with them and for them. You feel happy when they do, sad when they do, you celebrate with them, feel their pain and grieve with them. It manages to grab your attention early and keep you focused and engaged the whole time, invested whole-heartedly and on the edge of your seat. If you can relate to the characters in any way, either as a young woman, a writer, an artist or even just a member of a family, all of those qualities are multiplied tenfold.
Little Women is a story for dreamers and artists. It shows us the value of determination and having your passions dictate your actions, and becoming savage and locked in on protecting your dream at all costs in order to ensure its manifestation. One of the early obstacles that Jo has to navigate through is the stereotype that seemed to be a standard for publishing companies at the time: A novel about a woman must include a love interest and end in her marriage. The chauvinistic publisher who claims this in the beginning of Jo’s story comes to realize that his position is wrong (although for him, from a marketing standpoint) when his daughters sneak a peek at Jo’s first pages of Little Women and fall in love with it. Earlier in the film, Jo says in response to the stereotypes that she faces:
The film concludes by highlighting her message that a woman is fit for whatever she is passionate about, whatever and whoever she aspires to be and that her mind, soul and heart are all of equal value. In her determination to prove that she is more than just fit for love, Jo shuns the notion of marriage and for much of the film holds the position that she will never marry or find real love. In the end though, she realizes that she is lonely and decides to stop neglecting her human desire for love. The film shares the message that everyone needs love and human connection, but that nobody is limited to only love. The film expresses the importance for young women to know that love is not all a woman is fit for, but that everybody is fit for love and that whatever makes you happy is what you should pursue in life; do not let anybody else or yourself stand in the way of living your life your way and getting what you want out of it. Jo’s sisters Meg and Amy are both characters who communicate with the audience throughout the entire film, that choosing a life of marriage is completely okay. At one point, Meg who desires marriage and love from the start, says to Jo:
Meg constantly confirms the message of whatever you want out of life, whatever your dreams are, no matter how extravagant, complicated, simple or normal they are; they are important because they matter to you.
Little Women is an intelligent movie. It is filled with poetry that highlights the human experience. Additionally, each sister is a genius-level artist of some sort. Most notably, Jo is a brilliant writer, Amy a highly talented painter, and Beth a masterful pianist. Each character has their own skills and talents, showing how even Little Women from a relatively un-wealthy family can aspire to be great at whatever they feel inclined to pursue.
In an exchange between the sisters late in the film, Jo reveals that she is working on a new novel, a novel about their life, but she is concerned that nobody wants to read about it. Amy disagrees. This is their discussion:
Jo: “Who would like to read about domestic joys and struggles?”
Amy: “Perhaps, writing about them will make them important.”
Jo: “Writing doesn’t confer importance, it reflects it.”
Amy: “No, that’s not true... Writing things is what makes them important.”
That is the power of art. The author of the novel that this film is based on, Louisa May Alcott, wrote her book loosely based on her own life experiences. In other words, she was Jo March. In this film, Greta Gerwig, as the writer/director is in a similar role. She controls the messages that are communicated and the ways in which they are. Your story may feel ordinary for you, but when you pay attention to the details of a story, you will find that everybody’s story has value. If you write it down and share it with the world, there will be people who find it relatable and/or inspirational, making it important. The story of Little Women, as evidenced by how the publisher’s daughters reacted to reading the opening pages of it, provides that affirmation for young women, and even just young people in general, by confirming their aspirations as legitimate and expressing the sentiment that everybody’s dreams and their stories are important.
Little Women is a masterful and inspiring adaptation of the everlasting story of Jo March and her three sisters. It is a film about family, friendship, love, hope, dreams, passion, determination, jealousy, regret, fears, joys and struggles. Yes, I know that was a long list; but this film covers all of those themes and more. It is a poetic story that is romantic while telling us that it didn’t necessarily need to be. It portrays everything that we love about the human experience, everything that we fear and expresses everything that makes us human in the first place by illustrating the vitality of human connection and the value that it holds in our lives. Few films have you relating to and rooting for the main character as effectively as this one. Little Women is one of the best films of 2019.