Best of 2019: Little Women


Again, we return to the amazing year for movies that was 2019. I have had plenty of time to sit down with these movies since COVID largely sidelined the movie industry in 2020. And after several viewings... Little Women remains one of the best movies of 2019 and on my top 100 movies of all time - and here is why...


Greta Gerwig

Let's start with the Director who was snubbed from even being NOMINATED for an Oscar... Greta Gerwig. I know I may have lost some of you when I decided to right my take on a period piece, but if I still have your attention... you have not seen a period piece like this one.


Little Women is a story that has been told time and time again, and the task of making your mark on a classic while staying true to the values that made it special in the first place is a tall order and it was exactly what Greta Gerwig did.


Right out of the gate, you can tell something is different about this period piece. And I believe that the most glaring difference is the script and how it's organized. For anyone who has seen even a couple period pieces, you know the stereotypical slow dialogue that goes with it. No one speaks out of turn, very proper, and VERY rehearsed.


But in a Behind the Scenes interview with Greta Gerwig, she said that with a house full of sisters, that is not how conversations happen! You're speaking over each other and making sure your opinion is said, even when it's not necessarily heard. And that is exactly what she set out to create... authentic dialogue that was believable while still staying true to the themes and story that made Little Women timeless.


But obviously, this is not an easy thing to accomplish... it's a fine line of being authentic and relatable and being chaotic and sloppy. And how Greta Gerwig walked this line was by casting the perfect women to take on these roles... trusting them to act, and simply listening.


It is so interesting to see this interview because Greta Gerwig shows us the script of all the lines overlapping each other and her closing her eyes and listening to how these lines come to life.


In her words, it was like "conducting an orchestra." She trusted the actors to play their roles and she simply listened to how the conversation was layered. I don't know how she did it but it was perfect!


And the true beauty of this method is that every time you watch this movie, you can focus on one character's dialogue and listen to them... and in a powerful way you can focus on their story throughout the movie and pick up on so much more in their character development!


This requires so much trust of the actors you cast and that is what I want to dive into next.


The Little Women

What make this movie so incredible is the relationships and differences with each of the characters of this timeless masterpiece. On one side, you have Beth (played by Eliza Scanlen) who was safe and happy with her people. Extremely talented musician and found herself wanting to go the the parties to listen to the music rather than meet a suitor.


Then you have Meg (played by Emma Watson), who always saw herself being a mother a wife and having a family. While she loved acting and the theater, her dreams were always different from her sisters. In an authentic scene on her wedding day, after convincing Jo that she will not be an actress and she is marrying John she says, "just because my dreams are different than yours, doesn't mean they are unimportant."


Then you have Amy (played by Florence Pugh) who, like Meg, knew she would marry but wanted to marry wealthy. A talented artist who, like Jo, believed she could make her own way in the world... but ultimately was ok with the stability of marriage as long as she would have the nice things that she desired from her career as a successful artist. "I want to be great, or nothing."


And now you have Jo (played by Saoirse Ronan). This casting, no doubt had the most pressure surrounding it. Because Saoirse Ronan was following up a perfect performance of Winona Ryder in the 90s version and Jo March is Louisa May Alcott which gives this character extra weight.


Jo March is a talented writer who, like Amy, runs into the struggles of being a woman and making her own way in the world during this time period. In many ways Amy is the most similar to Jo, which is why they bicker the most. But what makes Jo different is that unlike Amy, Jo does not have intentions of marrying. Because she "loves her liberty too much to give it up."


These are the voices and dreams that Greta Gerwig is listening for as she directs and makes sure that these themes come to life in this masterpiece. What is also done so beautifully, is that while each of these sisters paths are different, each role they take on as Little Women is celebrated. It doesn't just focus on Jo, who finds the most "success," it also celebrates the motherhood of Meg, and the peace and love that Amy had been searching for her whole life.


While much of this movie highlights the obstacles of traditional gender roles of that time, it also looks at each woman and how they navigate those societal expectations. While some people fit in for the times, Jo March was certainly not one of these women...


Jo March

So much to unpack with this role, but what is important for me to highlight again for those not as familiar with this story... Louisa May Alcott wrote this story about her life and Jo March represents the life of Louisa May Alcott.


And in this story, Jo is pulled by so many different forces that once again highlight that she was out of place in this patriarchy of a world. We see her have jealousy of the opportunity that Amy receives when she went to Europe with Aunt March, she feels pressure to follow Meg's footsteps with getting married. And in this scene where we see pressures overflow when she refuses to marry Laurie (played by Timothee Chalamet), and cling to her liberty that she can't give up, even when the world is telling her that she should.

This is such a powerful scene for me because she lost Meg to marriage and when she refuses Laurie's hand, she loses her best friend in an attempt to hold onto who she is and stay true to what she wants her life to be... even when the world tells her not to.


And as this story continues to unfolds, her sister Beth passes away (and Beth is actually the one name that Alcott did not change when she wrote Little Women). Beth was Jo's constant support of her talent and when she passes away, Jo feels even farther away from her dreams of becoming a writer.


In this scene, we see a sobering look at what it would have been like for Alcott at this stage of her life. And we return to another crossroads for Jo as she speaks to her mother, Marmee, (played by Laura Dern) about her conflict with the patriarchal world she lives in and the dreams she has.


Ok... so this scene. Seriously, this is why I have a problem with Oscars. Saoirse Ronan was a lock for winning this award, and if the Academy would just give awards when people deserve them, they wouldn't have to give out these make up awards for people who had gotten snubbed for so many years! (Rant Over)


This scene encapsulates so many important themes of what it would be like to be Louisa May Alcott in this time period.


"If I was a girl in a book this would all be so easy... just give up the world happily."


She is once again being pulled down by this world telling her to compromise what she loves. And in expressing her frustration with that, Saoirse Ronan delivers this sobering cry:


"Women... they have minds, they have souls as well as just hearts. And they've got ambition and they've got talent, as well as just beauty. And I'm so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for, I'm so sick of it! But I'm so lonely!"


If she follows her dreams, she may find herself alone. And in this moment she has to decide whether she is going to fall into line with the gender roles of that time - or continue her journey that Beth always saw so clearly for her... becoming a famous writer.


And luckily for the world, Jo did not give up on her dream and neither did Louisa May Alcott.


Conclusion

Greta Gerwig, approached this story by how she could make it applicable to the times of today. But as she re-read this classic she found that these ideas of empowerment and following dreams were all there! And so much of the script was constructed from direct quotes from the book, which once again highlights "how ahead of her time Louisa May Alcott was." - Greta Gerwig


And lucky for us she lived in the time she did, because of all the lives she has impacted since she first published Little Women in 1868. And knowing the time period she published it in makes her story all the more powerful.


- Joey Almars


See where Little Women currently ranks on my personal Top 100 Movies of All Time.

And where I believe this movie ranks in the Greatest Movies of All Time.