• There are three previous archiveable versions of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women– but Gerwig’s version is utterly distinct and cinematically spectacular—the only one remotely close in quality (and they’re all in the archives) is Cukor’ s 1933 version with Katharine Hepburn — and Gerwig’s version is head and shoulders above the others
  • From the opening shot (a wonderful setting of the frame as Saoirse Ronan’s Jo is about to walk into the publishing office) this is an improved Gerwig behind the camera from her debut in 2017. This isn’t just about rich characterizations, top-shelf acting and screenwriting like Lady Bird—there are audacious aesthetic and formal moves coming from Gerwig here.

From the opening shot (a wonderful setting of the frame as Saoirse Ronan’s Jo is about to walk into the publishing office) this is an improved Gerwig behind the camera from her debut in 2017

  • the film bounces with energy– Ronan’s Jo March is running down the road, scotching her dress by the fire— alive
  • We get slow-motion in two spots- one as Ronan’s Jo runs down the street excitedly- and the other as Pugh’s Amy spot’s Chalamet’s in Paris
  • A brilliant formal/visual choice is non-linear narrative structure editing from Gerwig. It’s not just the rearranging of the order of the story (which is powerful in of itself with contrasting scenes due to the editing choices) but she, along with DP Yorick Le Saux (from Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash and I Am Love) light and color the two narrative time strands distinctly. The flashbacks are warmly lit, golds, natural lighting from the sun or fire (pouring in every scene even in winter), the characters are in rich colors- reds, maroons, yellows… the present day (when the sisters are split up) are juxtaposed. It is gray, overcast— lots of  yes, gray, but also whites, blues and blacks—colder. There is a bit of this in Ari Aster’s Midsommar earlier this year of course with winter and summer, dark and light— I saw this in Career Girls from Mike Leigh in 1997 (he reversed it and lit the present day warmer and the flashbacks colder). In Gerwig’s work it makes for a stark contrast as we jump back and forth between the two strands of time. You can see the drastic change at each cut—and when we’re in the same location as well (most notable being the two scenes on the beach below).

the two time periods are captured with very different lighting– this is the same beach as the shot below— one warm, one cold– and the effects are jarring– extremely well conceived and executed cinema

the cuts back and forth- oscillating between the two time periods often at the same location or in the same pose- a great formal achievement

 

it is either the sunlight or the fire making everything gold in the flashbacks

  • The actual in-scene editing is a triumph as well. I’m not putting the editing here on the level of Whiplash, Dunkirk but editor Nick Houy should be commended. Gerwig’s conversations are delivered rapidly (often with Altman-like overlapping dialogue) like Fincher editing Sorkin in Social Network and then Houy and Gerwig cut sharply as the dialogue is delivered. There is a lot packed here into the 135 minutes– it is an easy 135 minutes- I could do with a half hour more at least—each character/actor given showcase scenes
  • The opening shot with Ronan outside the door (and framed by it) of the publishing house is far from the only wall-art in a museum setting-of-the-frame by Gerwig. There is a breathtaking shot of Florence Pugh getting proposed to by Fred Vaughn in a long shot. The landscape—the symmetry— it looks like a shot from Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola or Barry Lyndon from Kubrick .  A closely similar shot is when Timothée Chalamet’s (who is sublime here) kisses Pugh for the first time.
There is a breathtaking shot of Florence Pugh getting proposed to by Fred Vaughn in a long shot at the 84 minute mark. The landscape—the symmetry— it looks like a shot from Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola or Barry Lyndon from Kubrick
  • The frame in long shot at Beth’s funeral at 91 minutes- very strong 
  • Another other standalone praise-worthy mise-en-scene shots are the four girls in profile at the window– I’d beg Gerwig to give us more- and hold this– she pulls off this too quickly– then you’d have Visconti or Kurosawa 

Another other standalone praise-worthy mise-en-scene shots are the four girls in profile at the window– I’d beg Gerwig to give us more- and hold this– she pulls off this too quickly– then you’d have Visconti or Kurosawa

  • Perhaps the greatest musical score of the year- and one of the great Alexandre Desplat scores ever (and he’s certainly right there with Zimmer, Greenwood and a few others for this generation) —playful, vibrant—full of life and color- a perfect match for the material
  • The family home (and the school at the end— almost like a really great commune– we’re happy again- and the sun and gold are back (in a swooning tracking shot) and connection/kinship created is palpable–  Gerwig’s choices and execution, the actors, the production design—its intoxicating—these are complex characters with complex relationships. Their relationships with their neighbors is life affirming. 
  • there’s a thesis running through Gerwig’s two films now—an autobiographical treatment (Jo here is writing her own story (or Alcott’s)) and there is much in common with the two characters Ronan portrays). Gerwig isn’t a realist like the Dardenne’s per se— the point is it is her voice.
  • I rarely talk about the Academy Awards- but I was impressed that not only should this film be nominated for writing, costume and some acting awards—but editing, cinematography, and yes- perhaps director and picture- Gerwig is deserving (not to say there aren’t others in this loaded year). It would win for costume– gorgeous dresses, scarves, fitting the hippie/commune idea- when Ronan writes her book she’s wearing an outfit from The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper

Gerwig is certainly one of the most promising young auteurs working

  • Ronan comes off with the greatest acting accomplishment here. Through two films she appears to be Gerwig’s muse (or surrogate) and this may be Ronan’s singles greatest performance (which is saying something as she not only has Lady Bird on her resume but Atonement as well). She is the best screen Jo March – or at least on par with Hepburn’s 1933 performance. She slays Winona Ryder’s 1994 (fine but not transcendent) performance. Pugh and Chalamet are next (though the entire ensemble is so good). Chalamet is perfect. Pugh is great as an adult– but if I have a nit to pick with this film, it’s the scenes where Pugh plays the like 12 year old Amy March. The pigtails help, but it is just too much to ask and they should have followed the 1949 version (where Liz Taylor plays Meg) and made Meg older. Pugh’s baby voice doesn’t fully come off. Laura Dern (what a 2019 she is having with this and Marriage Story) is strong, and veteran talent Chris Cooper breaks your heart in several scenes. The great Meryl Streep doesn’t have many scenes but she adds something to the character that has never been there before. And I felt privileged to watch her and Ronan spar briefly. We may be looking back on those scenes decades from now talking about those two (no pressure Saoirse!- haha)
  • the meta ending- the exchange with Tracy Letts (these two back from Lady Bird with clearly superb chemistry) changing it for “the ending that sells” “it’s mercenary”- haha. It is a bold stroke by Gerwig and pays off- and it doesn’t hurt to have a cinematic painting like the umbrella frame here either 

the meta ending- the exchange with Tracy Letts (these two back from Lady Bird with clearly superb chemistry) changing it for “the ending that sells” “it’s mercenary”- haha. It is a bold stroke by Gerwig and pays off- and it doesn’t hurt to have a cinematic painting like the umbrella frame here either

  • Must-See film – top 5 of the year quality