Little Women (2019) (Second) Review
On second viewing, this movie became absolutely phenomenal to me
This review comes from my Letterboxd page, where I review all of the movies I see.
A little over a year ago, I saw this movie for the first time and thought it was fantastic. I thought that it took a little while for me to get sucked into the story, but once I did, I was completely hooked. Watching it a second time, understanding where all of the character arcs were going, getting a better sense of the time jumps throughout this film, I can honestly say I no longer think that this movie is phenomenal. No, I legitimately think this film is absolutely genius. Yep, that's right, this movie got so much better for me the second time that I genuinely think it's a work of genius. I wasn't expecting that to happen, but here we are. I remember when I used to think of the name Little Women and associated it simply with one of those classic literature books that would bore the living daylights out of you when you were inevitably forced to read it for a high school class (even though I've admittedly never read the original book). The fact that I absolutely adore a period piece like this to this extent means that this movie is something special.
Oh, man, where do I start? Seriously, where do I start? Well, let's start with the performances. As I said in my original review, they're all phenomenal. This second time around, there were times where I thought the performances were a little off at first, but after seeing the film all the way through, I completely understand why those performances felt off in the beginning. The character work is absolutely phenomenal here. The dialogue between the sisters is completely realistic, and the dynamic between all of the characters is so authentic it feels like these actors aren't even acting. They're just having fun with their dialogue and bringing their real-life chemistry into that dialogue, that's how good they all are. I still think Laura Linney [should say Laura Dern, my bad] should have been nominated for this film over Marriage Story, and in fact, I think this might actually be her best performance. Add in Oscar-noms Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh making me forget they're European once again, Meryl Streep hamming it up in her typical Streep-ish way, Timothee Chalamet being incredibly charming and suave while also getting the opportunity to show off his dramatic chops, Emma Watson being delightfully dorky, and Eliza Scanlen being maybe the best emotional aspect of this film and you've got performances that allow every single actor to just disappear in their roles.
The color, or lack of it depending on what time we're in, absolutely pops off the screen in the best way, making the unfolding events of the plot all the more engaging or heartbreaking, beautiful or tragic, heartfelt and emotional. Seeing this film a second time, the editing is absolutely fantastic. Sure, there are maybe one or two minor discrepancies in the editing here and there (my original opinion of the slow-mo shot of Ronan at the beginning of the film still stands), but they never stand out enough for me to even really care that they're there, you just forget about them after a while. Alexandre Desplat delivers a fantastic score as usual. It fits perfectly with the absolutely beautiful cinematography and shot composition that makes every scene feel like a warm painting or illustration. I suppose a lot of the greatness of the editing and cinematography and the way it all comes together here comes from the greatness of Greta Gerwig's script, which is just as phenomenal as everything else. The dialogue always feels completely authentic, but the editing also gives it a fast-paced quality that you don't usually see with films like this. Usually, period pieces of this nature find a way to incorporate a pause between two characters conversing every now and again, but this movie doesn't do that. It always, ALWAYS moves at an energetic and quick pace, and because of that, this movie never feels like it drags. There's not one moment in this film that I found myself remotely bored or annoyed or wishing that something else was happening or mad that a certain character choice wasn't taken and oh my word, this is such a great movie!!
Alright, gaining my composure again, you know what I love most about this movie? It's a feminist movie that doesn't feel like it's trying to shove its messages down your throat for the entire runtime. Why is it so successful at making that message so seamless? Maybe because, oh, I don't know, it's literally about FOUR WOMEN FINDING THEIR WAY AROUND THE HARSHNESS OF THE WORLD!! It doesn't shove an out-of-place message into some obscure scene in the third act that tries to make you think that's what this movie was about the whole time, it establishes from the get-go that as a movie, it's going to focus on a feminist angle. No, films or TV shows that focus on messages like that don't have to establish that's what they're about from the getgo, but the undercurrent of that message has to be prevalent throughout the entire story or else it's not going to feel genuine. Either make your message prevalent from the get-go or make sure it's developed subtly throughout the course of your story, and this film does the former without ever feeling condescending. Of course, it also helps that it's based on a book that is ALSO literally about women finding their independence, but I'm sure there are adaptations of the original source material that still make that message feel forced because it's poorly executed. That's not the case with this movie, though.
This film makes it completely clear that its message is purposefully feminist, but it also doesn't make its women perfect and flawless angels. They're all incredibly likable, but they all have their weaknesses, they all act out in ways that they eventually regret, and they're blisteringly human. The male characters are that way, too. This film doesn't make the male characters complete jerks just because it's a feminist film, but it also doesn't make THEM perfect and flawless, either. It makes the feminist message of this film more genuine because it works to make ALL of its characters as genuine and believable as possible. Because of that believability, this film, which is primarily a feminist film, becomes so much more than JUST that. It becomes a story of love, of heartbreak, of growing up, of realizing that things change and there's nothing you can do to prevent life from changing and that life is complicated and that there's no perfect answer to any particular situation and oh, my word, the character arcs in this film are so beautifully established that every character interaction and individual character decision feels completely human and authentic and wow, wow, wow, wow, WOW!!
Okay, I got excited again, let me calm down for a second. My main point out of all of this is that this movie is going to be my example for years, maybe even decades, to come about how to do a film surrounding a topical message CORRECTLY. It's not the ONLY way to do it, but this is one of the best ways I've ever seen a film do it. It's a mainstream, family-friendly, PG-rated, feminist film that doesn't feel like it was made simply to please the widest audience possible. In every single frame of this movie, you can FEEL the passion pouring out of every single person involved. The actors, the director/writer, the musicians, the editors, the colorists, the cinematographers, the extras, the lighting designers, every single person behind-the-scenes in this movie feels like they gave meticulous, loving care to make a family film that isn't just something that everyone can sit down and enjoy. It's something that literally EVERYONE can take something away from, something that people can keep taking things away from as they watch it more -- I mean, heck, there's a shot at the ending of this movie that I genuinely didn't even NOTICE the first time I saw it that changed my entire perspective on the film. In fact, that's what the final half-hour of this film does so perfectly as well -- it gives you a whole new perspective on a movie that was already phenomenal, which makes it even better. I haven't been this excited by a movie in a while. I haven't shouted this audibly at the screen caring about characters and what they're going through for a long time. I haven't felt characters this human in an arguably mainstream film for a long time. I will never, never, NEVER understand how Gerwig didn't get nominated for Best Director for this. I mean, sure, at least it got a Best Picture nom, and don't get me wrong, I love Lady Bird, but I think this is the most important example right now of how to make a film for a wide audience that contains a topical message and doesn't feel forced or dishonest or manipulative because it just has so much love poured into it. Take notes, Hollywood. Take notes, filmmakers. More movies like this need to be made today, and Gerwig, you're a freaking genius for this.
Letter Grade: A+