(If you have never read the novel Little Women or if you have read the novel but have not seen the latest film version of it and you plan to do so, skip this post.)
As a grade school girl, I devoured the novel Little Women, written in 1868 by Louisa May Alcott, a Massachusetts author. I loved many books with four children as the central characters, connecting them with the four children in my own family. In high school I visited Concord, Massachusetts and saw her home, Orchard House, where she wrote the novel. I watched both the 1949 film adaptation of the novel and the 1994 version. As an adult scholar of women’s literature, I learned a great deal about Louisa May Alcott herself. As I did so, I became aware of her need to make money by writing the novel and her preference for her other writing over this book.
Then last week I finally made it to the theater to watch the 2019 film directed by Greta Gerwig. My granddaughter, who had seen the trailer, had no interest in the remake. She told me that she disliked the way the movie seemed to go back and forth in time which she found confusing. It turns out that she was on to something.
The film somehow conflates the story line of the novel with the real life experience of Alcott as a writer. As it goes back and forth from the time the novel is ready for publication to ten years earlier in the fictional home of the girls, it makes no clear distinction between the life of Alcott and the character of Jo. Sometimes it is Alcott who is urged to make the novel have a happy ending. Sometimes it is Jo who is given a happy ending. The blurring between the novel as fiction and as autobiography confused me, even though I am clear which is which in reality.
I truly enjoyed the depiction of the novel, appreciating the distinct character of each girl. The actresses illuminated the real differences among the girls, and they demonstrated equivalent strengths and weaknesses. However, the switching back and forth clearly confused the two women sitting next to us. When a very ill Beth dies they were at sea. I heard them whispering “Did someone die?” “One of the girls I think.”
I have yet to read any reviews of the film, nor have I read any conversations with the director. I wanted to be able to form my own opinions, although my granddaughter had already commented to me. Now I am eager to read about the film. Clearly the director and producer felt the time was ripe to present the book again. I probably would have let the novel, the two earlier movie versions, and the biography of Alcott herself suffice.