“It’s not a happily-ever-after story,” said my elder daughter Ida when asked what she thought of the new Little Women movie. We saw the film on winter break and are still reading the book, which we started in the fall knowing it would be released around Christmas. Ida said it in an appreciative way, her tone grateful for Louisa May Alcott’s story which is appropriate for an audience of little women but also reflects life’s complexity in a way that stories for twelve–year-olds today might not.
I imagine my younger daughter’s response to this question would award her a high five from the film’s writer/director Greta Gerwig. “I like that Jo is determined to write her book and get it published.” Lolo, my ten–year-old absolutely picked up on Gerwig’s career-long theme of young women’s ambition in a coming-of-age story. Lolo has also picked up painting since we started reading the book and I just wonder if she drew inspiration Amy. Actually, I take that back. It’s probably more likely the idea came from Tiktok.
So why is this period piece so good, so engaging for any age? How does it feel so fresh? In a word, Greta. In Francis Ha, Ladybird, and now Little Women (all written or co-written by Greta Gerwig), she seems to pour all of her being into her acting/writing/directing. Her own creative ambition and dedication intersect with what can only be very hard work, start to finish. Little Women doesn’t take short cuts to cheap thrills with distracted tangents or inappropriate motifs—no “fuss and feathers” as Laurie would say. The casting, acting and even the costumes and music come together impeccably.
“It’s easy to feel what the characters are feeling through the situations,” said one of my little women. That is what effective storytelling does and what Gerwig achieves. The editing, which might be confusing to those new to the story, sets a steady and engaging pace as it leaps back and forth between Part I and Part II of the book. Scenes are stitched together cohesively, keeping things light, hopeful, comedic but also modern and meaningful.
As I approach my Marmee years of mothering daughters (though half as many) I’m crying more in movies than I ever used to, much to my own annoyance. I was surprised to have cried when Mr. March returns because it affected me so little in the book and other movie versions. My tears though are as much about relief for Marmee—an end to her waiting—as it is about the reuniting of the family and how well the short scene of Mr. March’s arrival comes together. Having only ever mothered alone for at the most two weeks at a time, “flying solo” as a parent for months and months on end without any assured confidence in a spouse and co-parent’s return would be all but crushing with four daughters and limited resources.
Much has been made about this Marmee’s anger in contrast to previous movie versions that flatly portray her as eternally patient and gracefully self-sacrificing. Gerwig’s Marmee reflects some of the inner fire of Jo, adding significance to their relationship. We are interpreting Marmee differently now (Thanks be to God!). How refreshing for us to see her as angry advocate for justice during our own era of the Women’s March and #MeToo. She had a lot to be angry about. Other than the joy bringing up daughters, Marmee is without power, means or even a vote and has little control of her situation. Her only voice is Jo. Is that enough?
If Amazon could deliver it, I would order Marmee my book club’s current selection: Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun along with some good dark chocolate and invite her to our next meeting. She’d show up with a good bottle of red wine and be wearing a pink kitten hat knit by Meg. She’d tell the best stories and give us hope for raising kids in a polarized times.
- Do our current perspectives of Marmee resemble current interpretations of Mary the Godbearer? Why or why not?
- What is the role of waiting and/or longing in our spiritual life?
- If your spiritual identity were a Little Women character which would it be and why?