Little Women (2019)

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Sony Pictures;
Drama;
Box Office $108.10 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for thematic elements and brief smoking.
Stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper.

The latest version of Little Women, masterfully directed and adapted by Greta Gerwig, manages to find the modern sensibilities of Luisa May Alcott’s signature work while retaining all the trappings of its mid-19th century period setting.

Gerwig takes Alcott’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel that was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, and expertly translates the classic tome into the language of cinema, eschewing the linear narrative of the book and previous adaptations in favor of a flashback structure that better contrasts the childhood and adult lives of its characters.

The core of the story remains centered on the lives of the March sisters — Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) — growing up in Massachusetts around the time of the Civil War.

The film is filled with wonderful performances, anchored by Ronan’s confidence as Jo, and Pugh’s radiance as the bright-eyed Amy (both were nominated for Oscars). The exquisite period set design and (Oscar winning) costumes make for a film loaded with delightful visual touches that would make it worth viewing for those reasons alone.

But shifting the narrative back and forth between the two timelines allows Gerwig to focus on how the characters’ adult lives are practically responses to specific events of their childhoods, in a way that no doubt keeps the material fresh even for those who are fans of the novel or have seen the countless other adaptations of it.

Gerwig’s other spin on the material involves layering more elements from Alcott’s real life even more so than the original novel did. Historically, Jo is most often described as the most direct analog for Alcott in the story, as she’s the one who ends up writing about her sisters. And, as such, she remains the primary character of the film. But, according to Gerwig in the Blu-ray bonus materials, all the characters have some element of Alcott in them. In the very good nine-and-a-half-minute “Greta Gerwig: Women Making Art” featurette included with the Blu-ray, Gerwig relates that examining in her lifelong love of the novel in preparing to make the film, she realized that Jo was the hero of her childhood and Alcott is the hero of her adulthood.

Indeed, one of the best elements of the film is an ending that leaves much open to interpretation while honoring what Alcott once said was her original intent for some of the characters.

Gerwig’s script, while faithful to the original dialogue, plays up the artistic interests of its characters, emphasizing the struggles of the creative process, and how artists often face the choice of sacrificing the integrity of their visions for commercial realities (such as when a publisher declares to Jo that a novel with a female protagonist better see her married off by the end. Or dead.)

In crafting a screenplay that spoke to her as a 21st century female filmmaker, she suggests that this new film version becomes somewhat autobiographical for her as well.

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Other featurettes on the Blu-ray include the 13-minute “A New Generation of Little Women,” offering interviews with the cast and several of the filmmakers about the origins of the project, plus the nine-minute “Making a Modern Classic,” about looking at the story with a modern lens. The disc also includes a three-and-a-half-minute “Little Women Behind the Scenes” promotional video, and three minutes of hair and make-up test footage.

The best extra, in addition to the reflections from Gerwig, is undoubtedly “Louisa’s Legacy: Little Women and Orchard House” (labeled as “Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott” in the menu), a 10-minute mini-documentary about Alcott’s real life and family. Hosted by Jan Turnquist, executive director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House (the family home where she wrote Little Women), the video discusses what aspects of the book are based on reality, and the impact of the family’s real-life stories on the film.

The video also details the story of Alcott’s house, an old country home from the mid-1600s that has been rescued from destruction at least three times, most recently in 2002 when the walls were shored up and the foundation completely rebuilt to stop the house from sinking into the ground (the pictures of the house being propped up over a giant hole in the ground is rather striking). The real home ended up serving as the basis of the March house in the film.

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Interestingly, while this is the seventh movie adaptation of Little Women, not to mention numerous television and stage productions of it, not as much attention has been heaped on Alcott’s further adventures of the characters. Little Women was the first of what would end up being a March family trilogy, followed by Little Men and Jo’s Boys.

There have been three movie versions of Little Men, two of which were notably made more than 80 years ago, and a handful of television projects. But to date, there hasn’t been a Jo’s Boys movie — only an obscure 1959 BBC miniseries, as well as part of a Japanese anime television adaptation of the trilogy in the 1980s and ’90s.

Oscar-Lauded ‘Little Women’ Coming Home on Digital March 10, Disc April 7

Director Greta Gerwig’s Oscar-nominated film adaptation Little Women is coming out on digital March 10 and Blu-ray and DVD April 7 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film picked up an Academy Award for Best Costume Design and five nominations, including Best Picture, Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay), Best Music (Original Score), Best Actress in a Leading Role for Saoirse Ronan and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Florence Pugh. The film is only the third Best Picture nominee in history to have been written, directed and produced entirely by female filmmakers.

Gerwig’s modern adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott masterpiece stars Ronan, Emma Watson, Pugh and Eliza Scanlen as Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth March, with Timothée Chalamet as their neighbor Laurie, Laura Dern as Marmee and Meryl Streep as Aunt March. The film draws on both the classic novel and the writings of Alcott, and unfolds as the author’s alter ego, Jo March, reflects back and forth on her fictional life.

Little Women earned $177.2 million at the global box office.

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The Blu-ray, DVD and digital releases include more than 45 minutes of bonus features, exploring how writer-director Gerwig led this modern adaptation of a literary classic and took inspiration from the real-life Orchard House where Alcott lived and wrote Little Women.

Fandango Survey Finds Women Increasingly Interested in Movies Employing Women Onscreen and Off

In honor of International Women’s Day March 8, Fandango has released surveys of two different samples of more than 1,000 female moviegoers (conducted in March 2018 and again in March 2019) and found increased interest in movies employing women onscreen and off.

Among the findings:

  • In 2018, 85% women identified themselves as the decisionmakers when picking movies for family and friends. In 2019, 87% say they are the decisionmakers.
  • In 2018, 75% of women wanted to see more female ensembles on the big screen. In 2019, 85% would like to see more female ensembles.
  • In 2018, 57% preferred female-driven stories presented by female filmmakers/writers. In 2019, 63% prefer female-driven stories told by female filmmakers/writers.

“It’s clear from our survey that more female moviegoers want to see women-driven stories told by female filmmakers and directors,” Fandango correspondent Alicia Malone said in a statement. “There are so many talented filmmakers deserving opportunities to make their movies. With growing conversation and demand for representation in the film industry, I’m excited to see more diverse offerings in the future.”

In celebration of Malone’s new book, The Female Gaze: Essential Movies Made by WomenFandangoNOW, Fandango’s TVOD service, is highlighting a curated selection of classic movies cited in the book, including Penny Marshall’s Big and A League of Their Own, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, Gurinda Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham, Chloe Zhao’s The Rider, and Amy Heckerling’s Clueless.

Fandango is also hosting two South by Southwest Film Festival panels with Malone March 8 and March 11 to discuss the evolving images and views of women’s representation on the big screen over the last few years.

Oscar Nominee ‘Lady Bird’ Coming to Disc March 6

Lionsgate will release the Oscar-nominated coming-of-age comedy Lady Bird on Blu-ray and DVD March 6, two days following the Oscar ceremony. The film is available now through digital retailers.

Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan as a wildly opinionated and adventurous young woman searching for her true identity as she navigates through adulthood.

The film also stars Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Odeya Rush, Beanie Feldstein and Tracy Letts. Greta Gerwig makes her directorial debut and also wrote the screenplay, which is semi-autobiographical.

The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress for Ronan, Best Supporting Actress for Metcalf, and Best Original Screenplay.

Extras on the Blu-ray and DVD include commentary by Gerwig and cinematographer Sam Levy, and a “Realizing Lady Bird” featurette.