Nominated for Best Picture
On the way to the theater, my wife started talking about the plot of Little Women. “…it’s the story of four girls being raised by their mother…”
“Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!” I interrupted her, half seriously. I recognize the absurdity of asking her not to spoil a book that was published 150 years ago. But it is true that I had no knowledge of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women before I saw the movie.
I am never going to read another 19th Century American novel. I have been burned too many times by overrated garbage. Thoreau? Unreadable crap. Hawthorne? Poorly written crap. Melville? Pretentious boring crap.
I know that the book is always better than the movie, but my instinct tells me that this is the exception. Writer/director Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” is an absolute triumph. It has intelligence and heart. It is easily the best drama of 2019.
I guess all cultured people already knew this, but the movie taught me that Little Women is the story of the March sisters: four young women coming of age in 1860s Massachusetts.
The March family is struggling for money. Their little world gets richer in more ways than one when the sisters befriend their wealthy, charming next-door neighbor Laurie (Timothee Chalamet).
Little Women is pretty uneventful for a 135-minute film. Greta Gerwig’s inspired innovation was to tell the story completely out of order. This sacrifices suspense and plot and focuses all our attention on characterization. It works perfectly. “Little Women” is as subtly brilliant as Christopher Nolen’s early work (“Memento,” “The Prestige”).
Ms. Gerwig clearly loves these characters. And I did, too.
On paper, Amy (Florence Pugh) should be the sister we like the least. She’s a beautiful hothead who gets a free trip to Europe and she is going to use it to marry a rich guy whether she loves him or not.
But Gerwig presents Amy as sympathetic and smart. There’s a remarkable contrast between the impetuous 13-year-old Amy and the world-weary 20-year-old Amy who has become a wise, admirable woman.
This is a movie by women for women. There was no need to make Laurie anything more than the dreamy love interest. But Timothee Chalamet plays Laurie as a complex, lost rich kid. His bravado hides a scared boy who has no idea what he wants to do with his life.
The only time Laurie feels at home is when he is with the March family. He simply wants more time at the March house. And we the audience feel the same way.
“Little Women” is a perfect movie. Greta Gerwig is the most talented young director in Hollywood. She’s so great I’ll bet she could even make Walden or The Scarlet Letter interesting. Not Moby Dick, though. Melville is the worst.