There are a lot of reasons why the Oscar nominations this year were disappointing. The lack of diversity is ridiculous. And to anyone out there claiming “it’s about talent not diversity” I say you’re missing the fucking point. In an ideal world, yes, the people who deserved to win prizes would be nominated for those prizes. But this isn’t an ideal world. The Oscar voting system is flawed. Each member of the Academy, over 8,000 voters, can nominate any 5 names in their given category. The votes are then tallied until you get a top 5. Now we know that films by female directors and films starring diverse casts aren’t given the stage they need. They are buried by the bigger studios who have decided that it is male directors and white actors who bring in the big bucks. With such a wide ocean of voters, the system does nothing to work around the bias. It’s a stupid system and, before we can have an awards season that truly celebrates quality, it needs to be looked at. Until then, it’s just become something we expect. The lack of female directors is shocking and the fact that people reply to it with “but there are more male directors” just proves my point. We don’t get to see films made by women. So, when they are released, nobody goes to see them. Of course, the thousands of members of the Academy aren’t going to give a shit about Céline Sciamma, Lulu Wang, or Lorene Scafaria. But Greta? She was to be our saviour. All these women deserved better but Greta was done wrong.
Although, I guess we can kid ourselves that it has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with Little Women being an adaptation of a classic novel. And I have to be honest from the start, I was never as enamoured with Little Women as any bookish people seem to be. I get that it’s a great story about strong female characters but it just never did it for me. But that wasn’t going to stop me watching Greta Gerwig’s latest film. The little women of the title might not do it for me but their director does. Gerwig’s Lady Bird was one of my favourite films of 2018. It was beautiful and perfect. I had to see what she was going to do with this one. Especially as she had brought together such a wonderful cast of women.
Yes, Little Women might not have been one of my all-time favourites but I can’t deny how important and powerful a story it is. We are introduced to a cast of young girls who have their own dreams and ambitions. Dreams and ambitions that are celebrated by their mother. We see creative young girls during a time in which young girls weren’t expected to be creative and we see them being successful at pursuing their dreams. These are women who are destined to be more than wives and mothers. These are women that we need to see and Gerwig realises the importance of it. She has taken the classic story and given it the slightest twist. What we get is a bold story, full of bold women, and directed by a bold female director.
Although the story will be mostly familiar to many, Gerwig has decided to jump between time periods. We start the film when Jo is already a grown woman trying to make it as a writer. Meg is married with children, Amy is travelling around Europe to work on her art, and Beth remains with her mother. As Jo finds herself back in her family home, she finds the time to reflect on her past and look at how far she’s come. We see her younger years in flashbacks as Jo and her sisters make merry and argue their way through their teenage years. It also reaffirms her desire to write meaningful things and gives her the confidence to be the writer she always wanted to be. Just as her sisters have settled into the lives that they have always wanted.
Now, I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of the non-linear narrative but it’s also not the worst example that I’ve ever seen. And I guess I can see why she’s done it. If you first see the characters as young women then they command your attention in a way that they wouldn’t have if we had first been introduced to their teenage selves. You see them on their way to achieving everything they’ve ever wanted. They already seem successful and independent. You already care about their plans and are invested in watching them grow. Gerwig knows that so many people dismiss the desires of young girls as silly so she has made the story work in a different way. You can’t dismiss these women because they’re already putting their money where their mouth is.
This structure also allows Gerwig to bring more to the other sisters. For one thing, Amy becomes a much more sympathetic character instead of the brat she is for the start of the book. You see how much she has grown long before you see the terrible acts she commits against her elder sister. It is a testament to the director and Florence Pugh’s amazing portrayal that Amy shares almost equal focus here. Gerwig has found a way to get to the heart of every single character of this book and make them shine in their own way. Not just the sisters but the whole cast. Laura Dern is wonderful as Marmee and Meryl Streep delights in playing their Aunt. Timothée Chalamet is the perfect Laurie and I can definitely see thousands of teenage girls questioning why Jo didn’t instantly fall for his charms.
Gerwig’s adaptation really does come to life on the screen. Even the book’s less memorable and dreary characters have more to them through the director’s vision. She manages to modernise the classic story but making sure it feels wholly familiar and faithful. This is a film that has many links with Lady Bird and I defy anyone not to fall completely under its spell. It is also a film that utterly evokes the spirit of Louisa May Alcott. It takes so much from Alcott’s own life and the geography of childhood. This is a film that is full of tiny and wonderful little details. Everything has been thought out and it all happens for a reason. It’s a film that delights, entertains, and will bring joy to even the coldest of hearts. Turns out that Greta Gerwig and Lousia May Alcott make the perfect pair.