Little Women (2019) – Ace Mini-Review

Little Women
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh
Written & Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Book by: Louisa May Alcott
U.S.A., 2019

How good is this movie?

A lovely period drama that presents its famous story in a slightly different way.  The cutting back and forth between time periods is an interesting device that sometimes enhances the story and sometimes distracts from it.  I do wonder if it would make the movie hard for some viewers to follow, but, being familiar with the source material, I didn’t have an issue with it.  Saoirse Ronan makes an outstanding Jo, and the rest of the cast are also pretty good, although I had difficulty buying Florence Pugh as the younger version of Amy.

How ace is this movie?

Like the 1994 adaptation, the film is largely about girls growing up and getting married, and much of what I wrote in my review of that movie applies to this one.  As in other versions, Jo is resistant to getting married and could initially be read as asexual or aromantic.  However, her romantic arc diverges from the other versions in two interesting ways.  One is that she expresses regret for turning Laurie down and decides to accept his offer of marriage.  This makes Jo look much less self-assured than she is in the book.  It also means that Laurie’s marriage to Amy comes as an unpleasant surprise to Jo and creates tension in their relationship.  As someone who’s always appreciated the Laurie-Jo relationship as an iconic male-female friendship, I can’t help finding this a bit disappointing.

The other change is in the ending.  In the book, Jo and Bhaer confess their love for each other in a private scene that is quiet and understated.  In this adaptation, Jo’s family collectively press her into admitting her feelings and rush her off to the train station in a wild rom-com finish.  The scene where she and her sisters drive after Bhaer plays like an initiation ritual into normative femininity.  This rather undermines the image of strong-minded, independent, gender-expectation-defying Jo we see in the rest of the movie.

Of course, the scene is complicated by the fact that it may not actually be happening.  Just before Jo and Bhaer are reunited, we cut to a conversation between Jo and her publisher implying that the sequence never took place and is only being invented for literary purposes.  However, the conversation only appears after most of the sequence has played out, so it is not clear how much of the sequence we are meant to take literally and how much we are meant to read as fantasy.  The end of the movie downplays the romance with Bhaer, instead emphasising Jo’s emergence as an author, which is in some ways a very feminist and ace-friendly conclusion.  But the changes made to the story at other points balance this out and make the final product feel about as heteronormative as any other version.

3.5 Stars; 3 Aces

4 thoughts on “Little Women (2019) – Ace Mini-Review

  1. sildarmillion says:

    Hooray! Was looking forward to your take on this. I was also surprised at the change where Jo decides to “change her mind” with regard to Laurie. David J. Bradley had an interesting take on why that moment had an aroace resonance, which I wouldn’t have thought of before. (Something along the lines of an act of desperation to fit into the structure that exists in the world, but I won’t do a job of explaining Braley’s take.) And I was also unsure upon first viewing how I’m supposed to be interpreting the ending and whether it’s intentionally left to interpretation, but after watching reviews and interviews with the director, I’ve come to view it as the scenes were cutting back and forth between the real ending and the ending written in the book. Especially considering that in real life Louisa May Alcott’s arm was twisted by her publishers to make sure Jo is married by the end (and which is why she wrote Professor Bhaer into the story and intentionally made him, well, not the kind of attractive romantic hero her readers were hoping for), this ending seems like a really cool tribute to the author!

    Like

    • Blue Ice-Tea says:

      That was a pretty cool analysis by David J. Bradley. Yeah, I do think Jo’s decision to accept Laurie and her reasons for doing so are consistent with Jo being aro-ace. In fact, I agree with most of the points Bradley makes. I think it’s just that our analyses of the movies emphasise different things, probably because we come to the text with such different backgrounds. For Bradley, this movie was their first exposure to the story, whereas I’m inevitably comparing it to the novel and other adaptations.

      “[A]fter watching reviews and interviews with the director, I’ve come to view it as the scenes were cutting back and forth between the real ending and the ending written in the book.”

      Yeah, that makes sense. It’s just… that’s not the ending in the book. I mean, I guess you could argue that it’s close enough, that it gets at the substance of the ending, but… it’s like the ’90s rom-com version of the ending. Like, even more so than the one in the actual ’90’s adaptation! And that makes me wonder what’s actually being critiqued here. Is it the ending Alcott was forced to write for the novel? Or is it the altered version that was invented just for this movie?

      “she wrote Professor Bhaer into the story and intentionally made him, well, not the kind of attractive romantic hero her readers were hoping for”

      Right, and that gets downplayed in the 2019 adaptation, which makes Bhaer a lot younger and more attractive than he is in the book. So, although the movie ending is ostensibly subverting the original ending, it also takes out some of the subversive elements of the original ending.

      Something I’m becoming increasingly sensitive to in adaptations, remakes, sequels, etc. is how they respond to elements of the original. And the question I find myself asking is, “Is this adaptation/remake/sequel responding to something that’s actually in the original, or only to an idea of the original.” In the case of Little Women (2019), I think the movie is responding to something in the original (Jo’s marriage to Bhaer), but it also presents that element of the plot in a way that’s not quite faithful to the original, and that feels a bit disingenuous. Why not show the ending Alcott actually wrote???

      “Especially considering that in real life Louisa May Alcott’s arm was twisted by her publishers to make sure Jo is married by the end … this ending seems like a really cool tribute to the author!”

      For sure. I think that’s a story that’s worth dramatising, and, since Jo is a stand-in for Alcott, it makes sense to include that plot point in Jo’s story.

      Although, you know what they should make some time? A movie about Alcott herself and her own life!

      Liked by 1 person

      • sildarmillion says:

        So, although the movie ending is ostensibly subverting the original ending, it also takes out some of the subversive elements of the original ending.

        Agreed! It felt a little bit like Greta Gerwig was swinging the pendulum too far the other way. She got rid of the subversion Alcott gave us, and turned Bhaer into an attractive dreamboat type character – someone Alcott’s fans might have ended up liking as a romantic hero. And instead of giving Jo a marriage that wasn’t romanticised like in the book, Gerwig really went for the rom-com fireworks. My interpretation is that Gerwig made this choice to draw a starker contrast between “reality” and “fiction”. I don’t know if that was necessarily the best choice, but…

        Although, you know what they should make some time? A movie about Alcott herself and her own life!

        This would be so cool! Because a movie like this could REALLY delve into the difference between reality and fiction!

        Liked by 2 people

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