The second movie to come from writer-director Greta Gerwig, continuing her collaboration with Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet, may not be the most original plot, seeing as how it was adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s book of the same name, but it is a refreshing take in comparison to the previous movies that came out based on the story. The movie follows a non-linear story-telling that may seem a bit hard to catch up with in the beginning but soon proves to be more captivating and enriching to the story itself.
As the name suggests, the film is about women, four, to be more specific. Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth. Together, they are the March sisters. But they are nothing like one another. Meg is the most typical, if I may say so, with her innate desire to marry her prince charming and always acting like a proper lady. Jo, is the fire of the family, with her highly ambitious and forward-looking ideas in life. You may even call her the rebel, though I do not think any of the sisters are one. Amy is an interesting one. With perhaps the most growth out of any character in the film. She is spoilt and vane in the flashback scenes of the movie, when she is a child. But, with age, she is revealed to be highly pragmatic and shrewd. Beth, the littlest one of the sisters, is the most compassionate, quiet and kind.
But these girls are not just their traits. In fact, their traits come secondary to their talents and interests, which all of them have in equal amounts. Meg is highly skilled in acting, Jo is a terrific writer and wants to be compared to the likes of the Bronte sisters, Amy aspires to be the best painter in the world, and Beth is an extraordinary pianist. And just a reminder to the readers, the movie is based on the time when women were not welcome to contribute to the economy or to have jobs. In fact, it may even be considered atypical of Marmee, their mother, to let the girls pursue their interests, much less support it. But Marmee, an unusual woman herself, cares more about teaching them to be good people, than in curbing their interests and talents. She does not care about conforming to the society. And this is hinted in the title as well since they are never referred to as girls, but women.
As a mother, Marmee never makes Jo feel bad about her personality. Her personality, which is her identity. When Jo confesses how angry she feels, Marmee never tells her to do better. She just understands and sympathises. She makes sure her daughter feels heard and acknowledged rather than feel guilty. Instead, she goes a step further and pleads with Jo to not let her change too many things about herself. Marmee recognises that Jo’s anger is in part stemmed from her passion to excel. She knows better than to ask her daughter to alter that part of herself. Marmee never wants her children to become her own replicas. She is the perfect example of someone who believes in bringing the best out of someone without forcing her own ideologies and opinions on them. And Laura Dern gives a very convincing performance in her portrayal of Marmee.
Even though the sisters all are their own personalities and individuals, their love for their family binds them together. They each want to be good daughters for their parents. It’s the one thing they all have in common. It’s the most fundamental thing that overpowers their individual differences. In fact, I think that it is due to the father being away at war, due to the fact that the girls do not have a constant male influence in their lives, that ironically shapes their identity and strength. Something that is characteristic of the males in the film and the time it is based on, not the females. It is what sets them apart and what gives them the ability to be so ahead of their time. And to be so interesting.
Movies usually show us how ambition often comes at the cost of love. And what I love about Little Women, is how it shows this to be both, true and false. Yes, Jo rejects Laurie’s proposal because she feels she would have to compromise on her writing and on her identity to presume a life as a “wife”. That they would each be miserable if they were married to one another. But on the other hand, it also shows us that Jo’s passion for her writing is magnified because of her family. Her drive is pushed forth by them and she embraces them as part of her writing. Her ambition is stemmed from her ability to love her family and not curbed because of it. And I love what that means.
Coming back to the proposal scene, Jo loves Laurie but she also knows that she will never be enough for him. And he, for her. She values her independence too much. She does not say no to hurt him, but because she loves him. Our thoughts are mirrored in a scene towards the end when the publisher asks Jo why she never married Laurie. It shows us that love can exist in different capacities. Not every love has to be the same. Her love for Laurie does not have to come with romantic connotations. And even though in later years Jo faces an internal conflict about her decision to decline Laurie’s proposal, I believe that at the time when she did do so, she was sincere and that makes her decision at the time to be right for me. By showing her questioning her decision later on, the movie just seems to be suggesting to us that as we grow, we can change our opinions on things that we formed earlier. She knows even now that the truth has not changed – that she still does not love Laurie the way he would want her to. All that is different now, is that she cares more about being loved, than loving. The fact that she is rethinking her previous decision does not mean that she is was wrong earlier or wrong now. It just means that she is growing. And perhaps, these introspections are the reason that she did grow. Because she has the ability to introspect and make changes.
The family’s chirpiness lends an aura of positivity to the movie, which makes it such a feel-good film. The sisters are constantly laughing, bickering and talking, more so in the flashback scenes than any other time. Their house is always noisy. This attracts their neighbour Laurie, portrayed by Timothée Chalamet, who is immediately intrigued by the girls. And Laurie, who misses companionship and friendship, is mesmerised by the neighbours of the noisy home. And since we’re on the topic, I absolutely love the camaraderie between Saoirse Ronan And Timothée Chalamet, who give a very very convincing performance of their time together in the flashback scenes. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Jo gives Laurie the ring with her “Pretty things should be enjoyed” explanation. Their energy is infectious and it is one of the biggest contributors to the feel-good emotion of the film.
My favorite exchange in the movie comes when Meg urges Jo to understand her. “Just because my dreams are different than yours, does not mean they are unimportant.” To me, this sums up the theme of Little Women. So even though we are over 150 years since the book came out, let us still take the time to understand what works about the story. About the characters. About the Little Women. Let us also introspect, learn and grow. Let us also begin accepting people for who they are and not for how alike they are to us. Let us let the world come together with love and freedom. Let us celebrate our differences…