Produced by: Amy Pascal, Denise Di Novi, Robin Swicord
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper etc.
Cinematography: Yorick Le Saux
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
It’s Boxing Day and you’re nursing a slight Christmas Day hangover, plus your brain is still trying to piece together the crazy jigsaw that was HBO’s Watchmen (2019). You now want a story that’s a bit more comforting; something that will make you warm and snug and feel safe. Step forward Greta Gerwig, Louisa May Alcott and an incredible cast of fine actors in the latest adaptation of the classic novel, Little Women (2019). It’s a perfect Christmas film full of romance, love, spirit, passion and just a little bit of pathos and heartache.
Set in Massachusetts at the time of the American Civil War, this splendid old chestnut of a story covers the lives of four teenage sisters — Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlan) and Amy March (Florence Pugh). They live with their Marmee (Laura Dern) and the story criss-crosses various years and narrative events as they search, find, lose and find again happiness, sadness and love. While the sisters prove to be very different personalities and clash often throughout the film, ultimately, it’s a film about solidarity, strength, sisterhood and family bonds.
It’s interesting Gerwig would choose something so safe for her next film project following the acclaim she correctly received for writing and directing Ladybird (2017). However, it’s not surprising either. While the title states these women are little, they are in fact anything but. Ronan as Jo and Pugh as Amy are especially energetic and larger than life. Both strive for artistic excellence and attempt to gain control over their personal and working lives in a traditionally patriarchal society. Jo’s desire to be a successful writer drives the story along impressively as Gerwig determines a meta-structure through her character. Indeed, Jo’s scenes with Tracy Letts’ publisher and editor are particularly amusing amdist some of the losses the March family suffer.
Amidst the familiarity of the text, Gerwig does attempt originality in her cutting between past and present events. While cross-cutting becomes slightly distracting from the emotions of the narrative, you can see how Gerwig wanted to stamp her own identity. The device also allows some wonderful juxtaposition of shots, emotions and camera movement. My one criticism would be that because the characters looked of a similar age in past and present, you did not always know what year you were in. Ultimately though, I really enjoyed this high-class film production. Greta Gerwig is an incredibly talented filmmaker and obtains exceptional performances from all the cast, especially Ronan and future stars, Florence Pugh and Timothee Chalamet. The film was so warm and safe, my Christmas Day hangover, like my heart, all but melted.
Rather coincidentally I have watched a number of films recently with female lead protagonists and hopefully this harks a more progressive move toward equality in leading roles. As a humanist myself I applaud any movement which proclaims and pursues empowerment and equality to every human being. For far too long people have been oppressed, including women, and we must rid the world of prejudice and negativity based on gender, race, sexuality, health, shoe size, hair colour and looks in general.
Thus, in mild tribute to yesterday’s International Women’s Day I am reviewing some very different films where female characters are to the fore. In these reviews I will consider the characters and their strengths and place in their given setting and world; as well as my own subjective appreciation of the films. As usual the marks are out of eleven.
AMERICAN HONEY (2016) – SKY CINEMA
Andrea Arnold is an incredibly talented filmmaker and her films Red Road (2006) and Fishtank (2009) were bleak, honest and brilliant representations of working class British life. In American Honey she tackles the on-the-road-under-belly-working-class representations of American life with mixed results. Sasha Lane portrays Star, a young, transient and energetic character attempting to find hope, love and money on the oily, grimy roads of the USA. She joins a rag-tag troupe of magazine sellers led by Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough, who drink, smoke pot and fuck while crossing various States! Star’s character is naïve and feisty, and as she falls for LeBeouf’s charismatic Jake, she finds her life choices coming into question. Overall, this is a beautifully shot and directed film and Arnold gets some very interesting performances from an amateur supporting cast, but the film is TOO LONG and many of the characters are just too unlikeable and stoned to care about. With editing Star’s journey could have been even more fascinating but despite some enthralling scenes I struggled to connect. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
CHRISTINE (2016) – SKY CINEMA
Christine Chubbuck was a Sarasota TV news journalist who became infamous for an incredibly sad act she carried out live on TV. I won’t reveal what is was for fear of spoilers BUT safe to say it was not pretty. Rebecca Hall portrays this complex character with an artistic and haunted beauty; with Christine’s character totally infected by stark depression. She just does not fit in as she seeks artistic more human stories at work and clashes with her ratings-seeking boss, portrayed sympathetically by Tracy Letts. Michael C. Hall as the handsome news ‘anchor’ also tries to connect with Christine but her mood swings, paranoia and punishing work schedule pushes her away from those around her. Family, friends, and colleagues all rally round but ultimately Christine’s depression defeats her. Rebecca Hall is brilliant as Christine and this is a very absorbing, character study which sticks in the heart and mind. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) – SKY CINEMA
The ubiquitous Scarlett Johansson once again takes on an impressive kick-ass futuristic female role which finds her “ghost” inserted in to a computer-powered “shell”. Despite incredible visuals and fight scenes and Scarlett again proving a dominant screen presence the film is a let-down from a narrative and script perspective. There is a decent story in there as Johansson’s Major uncovers a nefarious murder plot being carried by evil corporations (is there any other kind?); but while looking pretty and carrying some impressive special effects this is an underwhelming adaptation of the original Japanese anime cult classic. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)
I, TONYA (2017) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE CINEMA
Tonya Harding was an incredibly talented and driven ice skater who went on to represent the USA at the Worlds and Olympics. She was also the first American female skater to perform two triple axel jumps in the same set. However, she also surrounded herself with and married fucking idiot men who ruined, along with her poor decisions, her career. As portrayed by Margot Robbie, Tonya is a potty-mouthed, bitter, energetic, unlikeable person yet effervescent and funny. Off the ice she continually chooses to go back to her abusive husband Jeff Gilhooly (impressive Sebastian Stan); while on the ice she skates with passion, determination, and brilliance. Steven Rogers script and Craig Gillespie’s direction present the story in mockumentary form with some comedy sketch-style cutaways which on occasion take away from the emotional core. Alison Janney is formidable as Harding’s hard-faced, pushy mother. However, it is her aggression and abuse which, while creating an incredible sportsperson in Tonya, also crushes all the love from the mother-daughter relationship. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
LADY BIRD (2017) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE CINEMA
Greta Gerwig’s very personal rites of passage character study is a breezy, touching, emotional and funny hop through the life of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, as she navigates from High School to College. Lady Bird is a complex representation of young womanhood as her character is irrational, bitchy, kind, irritating, neurotic and somehow kind of loveable. Saoirse Ronan, Tracy Letts, and Laurie Metcalfe excel in a great ensemble cast and Gerwig’s script begins like a train with a flurry of very quick and funny scenes involving Lady Bird, her family, school friends and objects of desire. Later, notably with Lady Bird’s strained relationship with her mother, the film tugs at the heart strings to enthralling effect. Lady Bird has received a lot of critical acclaim and deserves much praise as Gerwig shows she is going to be a directorial talent to watch out for.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
PERSONAL SHOPPER (2016) – NETFLIX
Another ambiguous, cerebral arthouse film from filmmaker Olivier Assayas containing both thriller and ghostly elements. The haunted Kristen Stewart plays a grief-stricken individual who is both a psychic and personal shopper. Stewart’s character Maureen is a lost soul working a job she hates searching for closure. While attempting to connect psychically with her deceased brother she is also stalked by an unknown person or “force”. As a character study the film works very well but I would have preferred the ghostly element of the story to play out emotionally as the other story did not successfully merge for me. I guess it’s open to interpretation but it felt like the filmmaker was telling two stories which did not hold together successfully. Stewart though imbues Margaret with a cold, distanced but powerful empathy and her fear and paranoia drives the story, notably in a couple of very creepy scenes. (Mark: 7 out of 11)