Gerwig’s Little Women and the Insignificant Viewer
Gerwig’s Little Women captures the spirit of the 1990 film in some ways, mainly in the way each character is played, with attention to spirit, humour, gentleness and frivolousness. For the first ten or so minutes of the film it also feels like a sequel to the 1990 movie, where Jo is already writing for pay and Amy is painting in Paris. I have never read the book to compare to, so I can’t say too much about accuracy or comparison there.
Some things I think do come across really well about the March family without the story being told in a traditional way (from beginning to end) where we’re introduced to characters as they grow and change: Their love for each other, their strength as a group, their hardships. However, while watching it begins to feel more like we are simply observing them exist, rather than the story is being told for us as viewers. We’re watching them in snippets through various points in time, as they are together, as they are apart, as they are in a big group or a small pairing. This sort of jumping through time, playing with the book, the previous film(s), a sequel and a re-telling, makes it hard to attach to one of the characters or to the story.
I think there’s a pleasant atmosphere to the film as a whole. However, without a connection to any one of these wonderfully acted characters and without a connection to the story most of the talent is wasted on a gimmick that only works when you’re aware of it, and not for too long after. As much as it’s an interesting directing style, as a viewer I don’t feel like I’m invited into these rooms, I feel much like a voyeur who might be intruding.
Lastly, I do appreciate the way Gerwig blends the story with the writer telling the story so that we are never sure what is fiction and what is autobiography. If anything that is probably truer to Alcott’s life as well as her book. Being a fan of the 1990 film though, I did miss the old actors, characters, and pacing and am not sure I would recommend this to someone else who loves that version of this story.