Little Women

Little Women ★★★★½

This feels not so much just another Little Women adaptation, but rather like watching this story through Gerwig’s fresh eyes and own understanding, and in the process it reveals how much she evolves leaps and bounds as a filmmaker. This has all of Lady Bird’s boundless character grace notes that are given generously and empathetically to everyone, no matter how big or small the roles -- Meg has never been given this much rich interiority; Mr. Laurence’s brief scenes reveals such mournful history that has me recall how deftly Gerwig conveys Father Leviatch’s pain with aching life in Lady Bird; etc.

But the altered timeline and meta touches also bring her brand of grace notes to new heights, putting own emphasis and lyrical parallels on past and presence that has this old tale land with such fresh, personal impact. That structural change, coupled with Gerwig’s usual concise editing, pitch this version as a conversation between carefree childhood and adult reality, giving extreme poignancy to how fleeting the former is, and how the “owning your story” theme (per the film’s tagline) can be complex and malleable, depending on each different person and on their stage in life.

And no 2019 scene may convey the feeling of authorship and director stand-in better than that of Jo, spurred creatively anew after a tragedy, locking herself in the attic and pouring her life story onto the page. When Jo spreads tens of pages all over the floor and considers them carefully, it’s hard not to see Gerwig in that moment, pondering how best to arrange each fragment of a story so deeply and intensely personal to her, so that her own feeling towards it translates for thousands of people as well. Considering this transcendent, lovingly rendered result, she achieves that and then some, turning an adaptation of a classic into one of the most personal filmmaking of the year.

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