[REVIEW] ‘Little Women’ and is 1 Amy Better than 2?

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If you have been following my writing for any amount of time you know I am a huge fan of Little Women, both novel and many film adaptations. In fact, it was the first big book I was proud of reading and finishing. I remember relating to all 4 March sisters and crying when Beth died and hoping I could be wild and independent just like Jo. It’s the best!

Unfortunately the film versions have been more than a little disappointing lately with a weak adaptation from PBS and a terrible modern adaptation at the theaters last year. So as you can imagine I approached this new version by director Greta Gerwig with a mixture of excitement and fear. Fortunately, for the most part, I enjoyed it and definitely recommend it for families during this Christmas season.

Pros

There are many strengths to this new version of Little Women. To begin with, most of the casting is strong. I especially liked Saoirse Ronan (who I’ve loved ever since Brooklyn) as Jo. She brought the independent spirit while keeping the character easy to relate with and likable. I also enjoyed Emma Watson as Meg and admire her for taking a small part in an ensemble film when she certainly could demand more.

Laura Dern is also strong as Marmee and Meryl Streep is fun as the crotchety Aunt March (although it’s weird for me to think of Meryl as so old!). Chris Cooper also puts in nice work as Mr Lawrence and Timothy Chalamet is a decent Laurie (a very difficult role to cast because you can’t make him too charming or you are mad at Jo nor too nerdy or there’s no romantic tension. It’s tough).

For the most part the big beats of the story are done well and I particularly think Jo and Laurie shippers will like the choices made. The film also looks beautiful with lovely period details in locations and costumes.

Mixed

The mixed aspects of LittleWomen mostly come from 2 areas. The first is the non-linear storytelling. Normally I am not a fan of this narrative choice as I think it breaks up any momentum the characters have (Man of Steel…) and I feel some of that here. However, because you see Amy and Laurie together very early on it makes the transition from him and Jo, to him and Amy, a lot more believable and effortless.

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The other problem is the decision to cast 1 actress to play Amy instead of 2 like they did in the 1994 film. Although not as absurd as the 1949 version with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy, 23 year old Florence Pugh looks weird trying to play a 12 year old. This awkwardness is enhanced by the non-linear storytelling where you are flipped around from young and older versions of the character while the actress looks the same at all ages. Florence Pugh is fine in the role but I just think they should have cast 2 for the character like they did in the 1994 version.

Cons

There aren’t many outright cons for this version of Little Women; however, I have a couple. The first one is I wasn’t crazy about Eliza Scanlen as Beth. Claire Daines is so much better in the 1994 version, and I think the non-linear storytelling hurt our connection to Beth and the mounting tension and stress on her family her illness brings the most.

I also thought the final scenes with Jo were a little too cute and overtly modern for my taste. The character is a classic example of the independent female archetype. She does not need extra scenes with her being snarky or clever to prove the point.

Other than that I enjoyed Little Women. I hope it will inspire a new crop of young girls to read the book and hopefully appreciate their families more each day.

When you get to see this version please let me know what you think.

7 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Waves’ and the American Family Forgives

When I sit down to watch an arthouse film like Trey Edward Shults’ new movie Waves I have to prepare myself for something abstract where visuals are more important than narrative. Sometimes these movies work for me (Knight of Cups, A Ghost Story) and sometimes they don’t (If Beale Street Could Talk, The Souvenir). With Waves it mostly worked for me but I much prefer the second part of the story over the first part. Let me explain:

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Waves tells the story of an African- American family of 4 in Miami, Florida who seem to be living the dream life at first but as we dive in we see a ton of hurt and problems. The first half of the movie tells the tragic downfall of the oldest son Tyler (Kelvin Harrison). His dream is to get a scholarship wrestling but he has an injury¬† in his shoulder he is hiding from his family and coach. He also has a girlfriend who just might be pregnant. As the problems mount up Tyler’s world starts swirling around him until he loses control.

My problem with Tyler’s story is I felt it was very predictable. The styling is beautiful but how many movies have we seen with the overbearing father (Sterling K Brown) and the teen rebelling. It was beautiful but was too reliant on archetypes to move me the way it wanted to.

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Then we get into part 2 which focuses on the second child Emily (Taylor Russell). The reason why her story moved me is she has a more unique conflict. I haven’t seen many movies with teenagers who have to forgive their siblings (and others) for the pain and hurt they feel. That struggle was much more interesting to see play out. Also the other characters became less archetypal and more like real people. I particularly loved a little scene between Emily and her Dad as they fish and have an open and honest conversation about their pain and anger.

Emily begins a relationship with schoolmate Luke (Lucas Hedges who I always love) and he has his own demons with his father and his own struggle to forgive. This was much easier to relate to than Tyler’s journey and felt more emotionally true. I kind of wish we could get a sequel because they had incredible chemistry and I bought into their romance completely.

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Director Trey Edward Shults makes strong choices that could be gimmicks but for the most part worked for me. The spinning shots got a little nauseating but the colors and use of music helped draw me into the story and give the movie its own identity.

All that said, it’s the message of the movie that makes it stand out. Waves is not only a story about a broken family but how they learn to forgive each other and heal from their wounds. It moved me and I definitely recommend giving this film a shot.

8 out of 10

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