[These last two reviews are coming in a bit late in the season since I saw both movies over the Christmas holidays and after that decided to take a bit of time off to gather myself into the New Year, so I do apologize for being late.]
I’m going to feel a little bit like a heel for saying this, but while I admire Greta Gerwig as both a writer and a director, I’m not sure that this was the turn she should have taken in her nascent career. I’m not saying that she can’t direct a period piece — this one is proof positive that she’s very capable of as the production values are extremely high and the movie itself looks equal parts fresh and vivid in its flashback scenes while also acquiring a more adult look as it delves into its more present, adult themes.
However, this is the fourth adaptation of the well-known novel by Louisa May Alcott. After seeing Katharine Hepburn, fresh off her (then, considered) groundbreaking debut in A Bill of Divorcement and her Oscar-winning performance in Morning Glory, paying Jo, and Elizabeth Taylor suitably playing the vain but sensitive Amy in the 1949 version, to the okay 1994 version in which Winona Ryder took on the Jo role and was flanked by Susan Sarandon to the left as Marmee and Kirsten Dunst (again suitably), as Amy, this one comes as more of a dare than an actual need to tell a tale.
Let’s be honest — I like Gerwig, and she has an entire career behind the cameras ahead of her, smiling down, filling her with deserved accolades. Ladybird was a massive success because it felt more authentic to Gerwig as the story felt unique to her and her alone. Remember Frances Ha? If you look closely, you can practically see the movie that Ladybird became in its final sequences. When Frances moves to New York to become a dancer and can’t seem to find her way, that in essence is Saorise Ronan’s character down to the details, and both movies are glued in spirit to Sacramento, which become focal points — one to the actress Gerwig herself became, and the other for her heroine.
I’ve come to realize that every director who needs to prove they’re capable of more has to direct either a period piece or an epic. It’s almost a rite of passage. Every blockbuster director had indie roots — even Sam Mendes and Christopher Nolan began in tiny features. Heck, look at Scorsese! So Gerwig, of course would want to fill her own shoes out, and retell Little Women but with a much more modern slant. If you think of it, the story has not aged well. However, Gerwig, a woman walking in a minefield made by men, makes her two main heroines reflections of resilience and adaptability that defies their own stature as women living in the 1800s. Yes, Alcott never married and by her own account was not into men — which explains Jo’s sudden decision to break with Laurie. However, Jo’s not a dimwit — she finagles a suitable amount plus percentages to make sure her book leaves her very well off and finds love in the end (because, again, let’s face it, like Tracy Letts’ character Mr. Dashwood, people love happy endings. Amy of course would be the one to come off shining like a rose — she more than any of the March sisters would have known the value of charm and smarts and marrying well (although she also manages, through Aunt March, to find her own niche in the art world). Even Marmee manages to get in a subtle modernistic spin on her own, voicing her opinions while remaining strictly on the side of the maternal.
Little Women is strictly fan service for the fans of Louisa May Alcott’s novel of the same name. It’s often beautiful to watch, and let’s face it: the women — the aforementioned Ronan, Florence Pugh (a standout, as usual), Emma Watson in a rather staid role and tepid storyline, and newcomer Eliza Scanlen as the doomed but strong in spirit Beth are all uniformly correct. Laura Dern makes her role into more than what the book Marmee was, Meryl Streep as Aunt March is, well, solid but predictable, and Timothee Chalamet, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, (the redoutable) Chris Cooper, and Louis Garrel all have their moments. Another newcomer, Jayne Houdyshell as Hannah, also has some pretty solid moments. So there. It’s good, but mainly as fan service.
Adam Sandler, if you ever read this and I highly doubt you will since I’m not an Ebert or a Rex Reed, I just want you to know what you did in Uncut Gems was absolutely mesmerizing. Please — for the love of all that is good in cinema! — stop making those dreadful movies that are draining your talent dry and leaving you probably a few million richer, but destroying your craft as an actor. You’ve got so much to give as a quality, hi-octane performer. I’ve seen you in Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories, New and Selected. You’ve got it in spades. If you don’t do anything else, stick with the Safdie Brothers who know movies. Those dudes aren’t afraid to tell compelling character studies that look almost like action movies where the plot hammers through the canvas and into your brain as though it needed to pummel you oijnto submission and leave you, dazed, wondering what the fuck did you just witness, but still begging for more.
What you did with Howard Ratner, a man who displays equal parts vulnerability, insecurity, and clueless levels of stupidity based on an addiction to the win, is really something that left me gaping. No wonder his buddies want to rip his face off, as he constantly juggles two women and a rock that he wants to bleed dry. This is the stuff of 70s cinema when antiheroes ruled and a good time often came with a heavy price. In his prime, Pacino would have probably done a louder version, closer to A Dog Day’s Afternoon, and while that’s not a bad thing, you did one better by keeping Ratner even keeled, and occasionally exploding in the center of the vortex that was his life.
That is all.