“Little Women” embraces painstaking cinematography and a feminist message

The latest “Little Women” film, an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s renowned novel, stands out from past remakes as a delicately crafted and revisioned masterpiece by female director Greta Gerwig. A period piece set in the mid-nineteenth century, “Little Women” is remarkable for the extraordinary attention it pays to portraying the seemingly ordinary details of a female narrative. The film follows the lives, struggles and victories of the March family with a focus on the four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy.

Just as how Gerwig brings exquisite attention to detail to the film, each of the sisters brings her unique dream to the story. Saoirse Ronan fully captures the fame- and fortune-seeking Jo with acting that swiftly changes from pensive to brazen. Emma Watson smarts of responsibility in the role of oldest sister Meg, while Eliza Scanlan as the quiet red-head Beth shines with innocence and youth. Florence Pugh, despite her mature appearance, is excellently cast as youngest daughter Amy for her unwavering demeanor of persistence. While Jo is the heroine of the story, Amy’s maturation from a selfish child to a thoughtful woman created the strongest impression of character development. Romance is introduced in the form of affluent neighbor Laurie. There is no one more perfect for the role than Timothée Chalamet, whose spunky attitude and boyish wittiness portray an utterly lovable Laurie.

Part of the March family’s charm is that, despite their lack of material wealth, they are keen to embrace uncomplex and enriching relationships with one another. The sisters’ lives are a constant flurry of heart-warming events, which range from performing plays for neighborhood children to donating their Christmas breakfast to an impoverished family that has none. 

A particularly raw moment is the conversation between Jo and her mother, Marmee (Laura Dern), where Jo apologizes for her temper and Marmee reflects, with a maternal tenderness, that Jo’s temper is similar to her own. The mother-daughter bond is played marvellously and underlined with the current of worry every parent feels upon seeing their children reflect their own qualities. Gerwig uses this exchange to forge the concept, which she carries throughout the film, of women’s right to be furious in a world that constantly attempts to constrain their voices. 

Engaging in an unconventional timeline, “Little Women” is told through a series of flashbacks rather than in a purely chronological order. While this double timeline is confusing to follow without an established understanding of the plot, Gerwig imbues the past timeline — set seven years ago — with a rosy hue, and the present with cooler undertones. Particularly in shots of the seaside, Gerwig produces a sensitive atmosphere through an overlapping of gentle sounds, lingering shots that emphasize objects and detail and memories encompassing emotions from insuppressible grief to overwhelming joy.

The film’s bittersweet essence leaves a lasting impression on the audience. The March family upholds more progressive notions such as female education and the girls’ ability to choose their own husband. However, the film also highlights the struggles of women during this time period, including the social pressure for women to marry wealthy men and the limited opportunities for female employment. Most importantly, “Little Women” leaves audiences with a message that transcends eras: the importance of defining one’s own narrative.

By Milo Santiago, Staff writer 
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