Greta Gerwig's Vibrant, Ambitious 'Little Women' Reinvents Itself

“I want to be great, or nothing.” This defining line from Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women has become a catchphrase of American literary feminism, repeated out of context, embroidered onto pillows, and championed nearly to the point of losing all meaning. 

The sentiment, first delivered by Alcott’s Amy March in regards to her skills at a painter, rings particularly hollow when you consider its place in the countless film, television, and stage adaptations of Little Women that have come since its first publication. These retellings, like so many adaptations of classic novels, have rarely striven for that artistic greatness Amy speaks of—they’ve by and large been pale, sentimental imitations of what a great story looks like, designed to print cash and appease the period piece crowd, i.e. women. Aside from Gillian Armstrong’s hit 1994 film, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Little Women as vital as the original.

That is, until Greta Gerwig came along. The writer-director behind Lady Bird and Frances Ha has been emphasizing the value in quotidian stories about young women throughout her short filmmaking career, and her talents and interests have found a perfect home in Little Women. Lively, ambitious, and deftly directed, Gerwig’s adaptation takes both its subjects and audience seriously, building its own kind of greatness that extends far beyond the power of the original text. It doesn’t attempt to overwrite Alcott’s story with modern feminism, but rather highlight how the joys and struggles of her characters have persisted across time. Filled out by an exhilarating ensemble cast, Gerwig’s Little Women is the best we’ve ever seen this story—and it’s one of the best films of the year.

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‘Marriage Story’ is an Emotional Tempest that Expertly Blurs the Line Between Realism and Camp

Noah Baumbach’s latest feature is a heartbreaking AU in which actress Gena Rowlands divorces her director husband John Cassavetes in order to move to LA and further her film acting career. Kidding, it’s a fluorescent law procedural detailing the absurdly high expenses, both financial and emotional, that unjustly come along with divorce. No, really, it’s a deconstruction of the apocryphal myth that the perfect parent, the perfect marriage, and the perfect career all exist. 

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BFI Flare LGBTQ+ Film Festival 2019 Review: ‘JT Leroy’ Asks Worthwhile Questions, But Cannot Provide Answers

The human idea of identity is a delicate one, naturally susceptible to fragmentation, fluidity, and misunderstanding. Culture scholars have debated this phenomenon for decades, and JT Leroy engages these issues simply through the nature of its story; if there is a variation between how the outside world views us and how we view ourselves, which of these identities takes precedent? What, morally, do we owe people when we project certain images of ourselves—is it a lie to hide behind a mask, or can our true identity be found in the ways that we present to the outside world? Is our identity internal knowledge, external presentation, or a mix of the two? In JT Leroy, these questions are asked in earnest, but the film never comes to a conclusion, scratching only the surface of a much greater discussion on the queer experience of the self. 

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‘The Tale’ is a Brave Story of the Mind’s Power to Shield Us from Trauma

Sometimes, before watching a new film, there’s a murky feeling that it’s going to be an intense experience. The Tale is one of those films. The HBO film follows Jennifer, played by Laura Dern, as she is forced to revisit the circumstances of her first “relationship” with an older man as a child after her mother discovers a story written by her younger self. If the premise isn’t powerful and sensitive enough, the film is based on the story written by the writer-director Jennifer Fox’s younger self at the time of her abuse. Primarily because of its plot, the film is not particularly “entertaining,” at moments even difficult, but it’s so powerful that it’s a must-watch.

The Tale

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