FOUR STARS Four sisters come of age in Massachusetts, circa 1860. The eldest recounts their story in a novel.
Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson
PERIOD DRAMA #LITTLEWOMEN
It’s always worth remembering how much the zeitgeist informs any period drama, and how much it affects the producer’s eye for box office receipts. Thus LITTLE WOMEN gets a reboot for a new generation and lands with all the affectionate if self-centred noise it needs to attract and please the target millennial audience. Curmudgeons will no doubt grumble that it has scant respect for truth in that it poorly reflects the reality of young American woman in the mid-1800’s. They miss the point of course, it’s unlikely this reflects the period any worse (or better) than did Gillian Armstrong (1994), Mervyn LeRoy (1949), George Cukor (1933) or countless TV adaptations in between. It’s just as likely that Ms Alcott herself pruned reality for that matter.
This time around, director Greta Gerwig (LADY BIRD) aims for the spirt of the book and in doing so nails the experience as four exuberant sisters come of age in Massachusetts. The eldest, Jo (Saoirse Ronan) aims to be an author and recalls her family’s story with guidance from her editor. Love, charity and tragedy befall the girls who live in genteel poverty with their mother (Laura Dern) waiting the return of their beloved father (Bob Odenkirk) from the Civil War. Fortunately they live next to a kindly, wealthy man (Chris Cooper) whose dishy nephew (Timothée Chalamet) visits the girls frequently. Cue more love, charity and tragedy peppered with sage advice from their forceful aunt (Meryl Streep).
LITTLE WOMEN was a story of girl power a hundred and something years before that was a thing. Modern, you might say, for at its heart this is a story of female empowerment when it wasn’t fashionable: Jo was determined that she and her sisters would live on their own terms and no man should, would or could stop them. This is the tone, the spirit, that Gerwig nails with ebullient, zeitgeisty determination and a gleeful all-star cast. How much you enjoy her film depends entirely on your enthusiasm and/or patience for the fizz and pop of that gleeful determination. At the very least it’s an effusive experience.
And that’s the point of course; a giddy retelling of an American classic updated for today’s always-on audience. It’s another significant achievement from one of Hollywood’s finest directors, a film that should see Gerwig at the Oscars once more. More importantly, it’s a film that should inspire another generation of young women to live life on their own terms. Alcott would be proud.