In 1860s Massachusetts, the March family has four daughters, all with different artistic aspirations. Meg (Emma Watson) is an actress who is happy complying to society’s ideals of feminity, Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is an aspiring writer with intentions to make it on her own, cherubic Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is a musician, favouring the piano, and Amy (Florence Pugh) a painter who sometimes feels put out as the youngest child (although it was only in researching for this post that I discovered she was supposed to be the youngest, as it felt like Beth far more filled out that role). Their mother Marmee (Laura Dern) tries to mould them into good, charitable adults whilst their father is fighting in the American Civil War, and over the seven year period of the film, they all have varying dalliances with their wealthy neighbour’s grandson Laurie (Timothee Chalamet).
Greta Gerwig’s Little Women was the last 2020 Best Picture nominee I saw, for no other reason than I missed it in the cinema and it was the last to hit streaming. That being said, it’s also one of my least favourite of the nominees. It’s down at the bottom of the pile with The Irishman, Joker and Le Mans ’66. It’s not because there’s anything particularly wrong with it – other than Joker I’d mostly recommend the others as well – it’s just that I didn’t much care what happened to practically every character in the story.
I haven’t seen any other version of Little Women or read the book, but I have half-listened to a podcast comparing the various adaptations, so I was aware of a pretty well known fate of one of the main characters. Other than that I went in mostly blind, so it’s not like I was bored waiting for an inevitable outcome I knew was coming, I think I just didn’t like any of the characters, and for no real particular reason. I can imagine this being a somewhat frustrating opinion to read if you’re a fan of this film, and for that I apologise.
It doesn’t help that, for reasons unbeknownst even to myself, I seem pre-programmed to just despise Timothee Chalamet in pretty much everything. My most recent viewing of Interstellar, a film I adore, caused the film to drop a little in my rankings, possibly because I recognised the young Tom Cooper as, to quote John Mulaney, “this Timothee Chalamet son of a bitch.” I don’t know what it is about the guy, but I immediately distrust him, his intentions, and don’t believe anything he says, so his character in Little Women is a blight upon the March sisters, and I see the relationship he is in at the end of the film as a punishment upon the character he is with, for her actions throughout the story.
So what of the principal cast? Well, everyone is doing great work, as long as that work doesn’t include looking like they’re all related to each other, but so be it. Saoirse Ronan calling herself homely is the biggest load of horseshit ever heaped upon a screen, but again, whatever. Florence Pugh especially shone as the petulant Amy, with Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen both being somewhat underused as the story favours the plights of Amy and Jo over the less entertaining Meg and Beth. All the props in the world should be lauded upon Chris Cooper, as Laurie’s grandfather, and Laura Dern. These screen stalwarts convey so much pathos with just a look. I’m so glad Dern won last year for Marriage Story, it’s bizarre that it’s taken so long for her to be rewarded for a stellar career. Meryl Streep, on the other hand, as the sister’s bitter Aunt March, is not great. Her scathing, seemingly witty remarks lack any humour and just come off as mean.
Outside of the acting and story, everything else is basically perfect. The costumes, production design, score, it’s all just wonderful, completely immersing you into the period and locations. The script is also great, though how much is taken from the original script I cannot say. In particular, the conversation between Amy and Laurie about a woman’s financial place in the world is very well done, as are the interactions between Jo and her would-be publisher Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts). I didn’t think the handling of the aforementioned main character’s fate was done particularly well, in that it didn’t affect me as much as I thought it would. In fact, the early sequence in which Marnee convinces the girls to donate their Christmas breakfast to a less fortunate family was much more moving, despite it being immediately undercut in the following scene.
I’m concerned that this review makes me come off more than a little like Dashwood and his initial critique of Jo’s novel, “I don’t like it,” but alas that is the case. However, also like Dashwood, I can concede that others, perhaps those more aligned to period romantic dramas, will adore this film, and to them I wish all the best, it’s just not for me.
Choose Life 7/10