‘Little Women’ review: A nod for accepting the diversity within gender and not being judgmental

‘Little Women’: A smart and modern, if not entirely radical take on the much-loved novel   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Growing up reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, it wasn’t the politics of American Civil War in the backdrop that piqued our interest. It was the coming-of-age story in the foreground, involving the four March sisters — Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth — was what impacted us, notwithstanding the different country, culture and period in which the novel was rooted. In a similar vein, Greta Gerwig’s screen adaptation also retains the timelessness and universality inherent in Alcott’s tale. While the story harks back to 1868 America, the film feels up to date with modern times and could transpire in any part of the world today. It is a smart and modern, if not entirely radical take on the much-loved novel.

Take the slice of siblinghood for instance, which, along with the feminist questions and angst, that is what Gerwig choses to draw the audience’s attention to. The rivalries between the sisters, the game of one upmanship, their disagreements that descend from the civil to the ugly — all something many sets of brothers and sisters have experienced at close quarters. Then there is the articulation of the unfairness and skew when it comes to family dynamics — how one sibling is always saddled with the family responsibilities, while the other gets away relatively easy in life. But above all, there is also the overwhelming love, concern and care which resolves the issues and redeems the relationships.

Little Women
  • Director: Greta Gerwig
  • Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, Louis Garrel, Meryl Streep
  • Run time: 135 minutes
  • Storyline: An adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel about the four March sisters’ coming of age against the backdrop of the American Civil War

The four little women, who are poles apart from each other, are also a reminder of the pitfalls of putting women in one bracket or refusing to see them beyond the extreme clichés of good and bad. The experiences, aspirations, desires and ambitions of the women are multi-hued despite sharing a surname, family and home. Little Women is a nod for accepting the diversity within gender and not being judgmental, especially when it comes to women. Meg may want to get away from the life of want and poverty but that doesn’t make her a vacuous social climber. While Jo is the most sensitive to the needs of the family, it doesn’t mean she is a saint who will sacrifice her own dreams. Amy’s savage anger doesn’t divest her of vulnerabilities and neither do the lofty morals of Jo make her righteous.

No wonder Jo and Amy in all their ambiguities are the ones who leave the strongest impression and offer Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh respectively the opportunity to invest in and dig into their characters with relish. Just as in the book, the circle of their life, Jo was and still is the alter ego for many of us wanting to not square up to the marriage question. The tomboyish one, not given to “furs and feathers” yet weeping at the loss of her lovely long tresses, wanting to chart her own way in life, sure of what she wants but questioning her own choices in moments of extreme loneliness, running away from marriage yet not being regarded irresponsible for that. the possibility of friendship between man and woman is the another impactful strand. As is a mother allowing girls to venture out on their own into the world, to make up their minds about life’s choices.

Before watching Little Women, I was apprehensive about how the film will tackle the marriage issue. There is the orthodox view in the narrative stemming from the society itself — that women need to marry well and the only way to stay unmarried is to be rich. But far from underlining it, the film looks at it from an amused distance and underscores the counterview — that marriage is an economic proposition after all. All of which are eternal truths!I also wondered if the focus on getting Jo married would seem out of joint. Like a typical taming of the shrew arc? Or a feel good romance of the cloying kinds. It may not be about rocking the boat but about the hopes and possibilities within the usual. Alcott’s book and Gerwig’s film end in an impossibly happy and neat resolution. But both underlay an assurance that it hasn’t happened at the cost of Jo’s spirit or will being thwarted. She remains her own woman.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 3:06:45 AM |

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