Each year for the past few years, I have attempted to watch as many of that year’s Oscar nominees as possible before the awards are presented. It’s just a little personal challenge for fun, and I’ve had varying degrees of success in both seeing the films, and making predictions (ok that’s stretching the truth- my predictions are always failures). This year the nomination announcements caught be by surprise somehow. I’d managed to completely miss the Golden Globes (whose nominations I usually use to get a jump start), and for the first time ever, I have not seen a single one of the nominees already on my own. Doh! Lots of work to do! Last year I wrote up reviews of all the nominees I managed to see, and published both my predictions, and my reactions. I hope to do the same this year, but I’ll try to write up my reviews individually as I see the films, and then will do a big prediction post at the end. And we’re starting with…
(graphic credit: Slate.com)
(6 nominations, including best picture, actress – Saoirse Ronan, supporting actress – Florence Pugh, original score, adapted screenplay, and costume design)
Did you see the 1994 version? Then you’ve seen this one. Did you like the 1994 version? Then you’ll like this one, too! I’ve never read the book, and so can’t comment on how faithfully we follow the original, but I sure as hell noticed the similarities between these two versions, which led me to assume they were accurate. The treatments and selections in the two films were so similar, I was left scratching my head as to why we made a new one. On my way home from the theatre I did a moderate amount of googling and discovered that one of the writers of the 1994 version was a producer and consultant on this version, which left me even more confused. What could the reason possibly be fo the same people to make virtually the same film? What’s this new spin supposed to achieve? Maybe it’s just to bring this classic to a new generation. In that case, job well done! But maybe there were improvements that the filmmakers wished to bring forwards- a sort of do-over? Knowing there is a reason for the update, I decided to focus on the differences. Take these all with a grain of salt, because my analysis of the 1994 film is based entirely on my memory of a film I saw when I was 12.
The most clearly deliberate change in LWv2.0 is the lack of chronological storytelling. Screenwriter and director Greta Gerwig begins the film 7 years into the story, and uses a tapestry of flashbacks to tell the story of the young ladies. In some ways this device provides new opportunities. Most notable is that we could bookend the tale with Jo’s attempts to sell her work to a publisher which brought focus and weight to her creative journey and independence. The scenes with the publisher were, in fact, my personal favorites (female protagonists have to end up married or dead, bahaha). But I still think it didn’t quite work overall. For one thing, it’s not how Louisa May Alcott wanted her story told. But more obviously, the story follows young sisters who transition from girlhood into womanhood, and yet they all look exactly the same no matter where we are in the timeline. This is a major problem! What timeline are we in? How old is everyone? Is this a little kid who gets mad about not going to a party, or a grown ass woman churning out a bunch of kids of her own? Who knows?!
The other major change is, of course, the casting. Two decades later, we move on to a new generation of actors. First off, Saoirse Ronan is fantastic as our heroine Jo (previously played by Winona Ryder, who was also fantastic). She’s always fantastic. It’s perfect casting for her, and her best actress nomination is well-deserved. But outside of that, most casting fell somewhere between “Fine/Adequate” to “Huh? Meh.” Laura Dern, Meryll Streep, and Chris Cooper were of course fine. Bob Odenkirk was just kinda a weird choice for the dad. Maybe it’s because I can’t see him without thinking of Breaking Bad and Mr. Show, but this role isn’t substantive or juicy enough for him to break through these existing perceptions and make me believe he’s a lovable cuddly chaplain. Emma Watson somehow fell flat as eldest sister Meg. Same with just-kinda-there Eliza Scanlen, who just didn’t capture the sweetness and goodness that Claire Danes did in her turn as Beth. Florence Pugh (who I loved in Fighting with my Family) did fine with what she was given, but not exactly deserving of her best supporting actress nomination. More crucially, she should not have been cast to play the youngest sister in both timelines, as this 24 year old was absolutely not a convincing 12 year old.
This all sounds like complaining. It’s not! This movie was great! Not quite as great as the previous version, but still great! In fact, I only have one major complaint…
I feel like I’m taking crazy pills, but I just don’t understand the casting of Timothée Chalamet here. He’s a twerpy little boy who looks like he should be trying out for the middle school basketball team, not throwing around marriage proposals. It definitely doesn’t help that, like the rest of the cast, he inexplicably doesn’t age over 7 years. In the closing scene he’s holding his own child and you’re like “WTH is that noodle doing?! He’s not old enough to hold a baby!” I’m definitely missing something here, but in my mind, this guy is no Christian Bale.