Tuesday, January 21, 2020

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[Review] Little Women (2019)

"Please fight to the end, be LOUD! Don't just quietly go away!" - Jo March 

Watching Little Women had me pondering question after question. What makes a great film, great? Then, that question expanded: what makes a great film, important? I still haven't got the chance to find answers and one thing came up: how is one deemed important anyway? The scale, the scope, the stakes? I found myself fascinated by one thing, then one fascination came right after another, and so on. Director-screenwriter Greta Gerwig, in this Louisa May Alcott's latest film adaptation, poses these deep-rooted thoughts about the importance of telling one's story, that the scope of sisters in their childhood and adulthood is as large as any other supposedly bigger stories. It's blunt and graceful, playful and firm, heartwarming and heartrending. Greta breaks down and analyzes Alcott's already modern writing, molding it into another form that further broadens Alcott's vision with intelligence, insight, and tenderness. 

Between the stories, themes, and characters Alcott has brought, Greta finds an emotive core to sew the seams and hem the border of each parallel, allowing those separating lines to unite Alcott's intricate sense and sensibility. More than redefining its narrative structure and reharmonizing its source, Greta injects her expressive creativity into our consciousness: from introducing the characters as adults longing for their memories of childhood to giving them their bigger voices. With that amount of liberty, she alters things but the heart remains congruent. One thing to note is how Greta is not afraid to go beyond Jo's story to mirror Alcott's real-life struggle. Here, Alcott's clear-cut persona is always present and valued, not just as the distinguished writer, but a woman with her own unique, empowered thoughts—an homage in the highest form.

We're no stranger to a non-linear narrative, but Greta's interpretation conveys determined gravitas. Those specific timelines sustain specific purposes, helping us understand the endeavor that stands between chasing ambitions and the haunting memories that follow. Her interpretation shows that one's life is not merely a one-way journey where everything moves forward in a prospective canon, life is also a reflection of memories, one that could be reframed as both an introspect and a retrospect. But these characters are not always talking about big dreams, it's about the complexity and the correlation of everything: womanhood, childhood, marriage, freedom, loneliness, love, and its lack thereof. These themes are presented skilfully through her acute understanding of dynamics: often overt, at times guarded, a mud-caked allure of growing up that brings overlooked inner agitations to light.

Greta's script shows a different way of viewing things, one that we may have seen before, yet her methods of creating such lens are very distinct—for one thing, she gets the point. She gets her way around each character, giving them grounds as well as delivering us answers of "why are they here?". She simply sees them as people trying to live their lives and paints them so, creating a space between us and the characters to breathe for one moment but leaving us in one room so we can recognize each other from a near distance. We see ourselves in Saoirse Ronan's Jo: her willingness to strive for something regarded as radical is powerful yet the absence of companionship in her life is perfectly intelligible. On the other hand, we also mirror Florence Pugh's Amy as she unravels the long-buried side of her perspective, bridging a gap between a misunderstood character we thought we knew and her true native wit. How Greta embraces reality with delicacy on one end and firmness on the other has become the singularity in her art since Lady Bird—or her early collaborations with Noah Baumbach—but her reinvention of this beloved, familiar story has created a new larger surface for us to walk onto, a warm quilt for us to take time and be engrossed in this intimate life's intricacy.


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