By Laura BennettFriday 6 Dec 2019Hope Afternoons
This is the year for the March sisters, with this weeks’ Little Women the second movie to tell their story in as many months.
The first was a modern adaption, imagining how Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy would navigate love and sisterhood in 2019, and this one takes us back to the 1860’s, seeing how womanhood fares in an era of civil war and social obligations.
Being the 25th anniversary of the 1994 flick, and 150th of Louisa May Alcott’s original book, it’s only right that there’s a resurgence of the tale, but the question is, does it need it to be told again now?
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For the uninitiated, Little Women reflects the authors’ life growing up in Massachusetts with her three sisters and a father away at war. The bond between the girls is palpable as they ride the waves of adolescence, and support each other through the struggles of being in a single parent home. Louisa’s character Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is the second-eldest, and takes pride of place as the independent, driven and poetic sister.
All the Favourite Moments…
The movie is made well, touching on all the elements of the story we know: Jo’s book being burned, Meg making marriage her dream, and Amy raging against her status as the youngest sister. Refreshingly, Little Women also accentuates new storylines like why Laurie’s fascinated with the Marchs, and how Amy could come to fall in love with him.
The girls’ Aunt March (Meryl Streep) also gets more screen time, playing the role of the wealthy matriarch trying to get her nieces to see the economic necessity of marriage, and their responsibility in the family line. Her favour is bestowed interchangeably on the sister who’s best following her orders at the time, and while she’s got an aloof independence, she’s not convinced any of them will follow suit.
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Laura Dern makes a great Marmie and Emma Watson is suited to Meg, but it’s relative- unknown Florence Pugh’s Amy who captures your attention most.
While Jo is loud about her views, Amy’s quietly working out her womanhood and the balance between speaking her mind and falling in line. It’s a much more endearing and confident picture of a character often maligned as the ‘little annoying one’.
…But a Little Bit Cookie-Cutter
With all Little Women’s got going for it though, it struggles to find its reason for being.
In a cultural moment that’s celebrating female stories and wrestling flexibility into long-held social norms, instead of offering anything new to the conversation Little Women repeats the points we’ve already heard: marriage is a maybe, we can be who we like, and women’s power can’t be underestimated.
These ideas are not fresh concepts, and while keeping them popular reinforces their truth, it makes for a movie that feels pretty cookie-cutter.
Little Women’s real asset is the affection shown between the family.
“Its bigger takeaway is to love your family well, bravely take the path less travelled, and embrace your need for connection.”
As they crowd out the couch, lean on each other, and somehow always stay close, you get the impression their hugs would be good ones. Their intimacy is a stark contrast to the ‘personal bubble’ we’re all predisposed to nowadays, whether in real life or digitally. And, in true ‘big-noisy-family’ form, it’s weaved between extremes of emotion felt by the sisters, who want on the one hand to get rid of each other, and on the other, to cry in solidarity over a bad haircut.
Jo’s life also offers a message it may not have meant to: even if you don’t want marriage you still need love. In pursuing her career and independence Jo’s dismissive of Laurie’s interest, and is blind to Freddy’s fondness of her. Yet, fights a loneliness that reminds us we’re all created for relationship, romantic or not.
In our era’s quest to adjust social norms, we can’t forget a lot of those ‘norms’ have become so, because they meet common human needs.
Little Women’s intention may have been to give feminism another boost, but its bigger takeaway is to love your family well, bravely take the path less travelled, and embrace your need for connection.
Little Women is in cinemas January 1st.