Oscar Winner 2020: Little Women (2019)

Little Women (2019)
Dir: Greta Gerwig

This film is such a great example of how even very well-known and previously adapted source material can be retold in a way that brings something new to the story.

While their father is away, sisters (Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, and Eliza Scanlen) befriend a wealthy neighbour (Timothee Chalamet) who becomes an ongoing transformative presence in their lives.

I absolutely loved this, I enjoyed it so much I saw it twice in the same week and that’s not something I do often. It’s a film filled with exceptionally strong performances, and though most of the praise and awards attention went to Saiorse Ronan and Florence Pugh, it’s a great ensemble cast in its entirety.

Laura Dern was widely nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her work in ‘Marriage Story’ which really shows how incredible her part in that film was, because her performance here is fantastic. Immediately from her introduction she exudes all the warmth needed for the role and lights up the scene with charisma. If it weren’t for her stand-out role in ‘Marriage Story’ I think she might have gotten a few Supporting nominations for this, as she makes a big impact with minimal screentime.

The non-linear telling of the story generally works well, though near the end I found it became a little frustrating at a certain point, especially as it highlights aspects of the story and characters that could have been further developed. On further thought and research into the film, it’s been suggested that this may be very deliberate, a clever twist, that through a measure of ambiguity it suggests an alternative reading of the film’s final act. The idea is that the narrative switches more to telling the story as it’s presented in Jo’s novel, potentially with some aspects changed to appease the editor, as we’re shown him requesting. I think I’ll bear this in mind when I next watch the film again to see if I can get on board with that interpretation, though it wasn’t something that I took as apparent from the first two times I saw it, although I appreciate ideas like this and it intrigues me now to think that there’s more to love about this telling of the story that I hadn’t appreciated.

Controversy abounded around awards season when Greta Gerwig wasn’t nominated for Best Director at the Oscars for this film, it was widely regarded as one of the biggest ‘snubs’. I think it’s a shame, not just because she could’ve easily made the list, but more so that what was lost most in the prevalence of that debate was a balanced or untarnished consideration of the film itself. Some people seemingly weren’t able to talk about the overwhelming positives of the film without the conversation becoming intertwined with the negative discussion of Gerwig’s ‘snub’. She’s a superb director, I have absolutely no doubt she will make more films that do get her nominated for best director and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see her win in the near future too.

After just a few feature films she’s built herself a great reputation as a director, and the skill she’s shown in retelling such a classic story in a way that feels so fresh and contemporary is something she will apply to other films. Maybe it’s something she’ll bring to what’s potentially her next directing project, the live-action ‘Barbie’ movie, which I’ve been really interested to see since it was announced that Amy Schumer was going to take the titular role (though that casting ended up falling through). With Greta Gerwig at the helm, a ‘Barbie’ movie that might end up being award-worthy becomes an increasingly interesting prospect.

In almost any other year, I’d have been tempted to predict this would win the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar, based on the effects of preferential balloting helping this film sneak up from behind. This year, however, there was already another film that looked poised to do exactly that. I think this may have ended up in third place, a result we’ll never be told of, but I don’t know of anyone who saw it and didn’t like it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case once all votes were counted.


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