By BEN FANCHER
Every once in a while, if you’re lucky enough, you get to experience a film that is truly special. A movie that grabs you by the heart, holds you in place for two hours and makes you feel every emotion on the spectrum of human emotion; you love every second of it and you miss it when it’s gone. “Little Women” is one of those movies.
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott novel was released just in time to qualify for this year’s Oscars. It’s up for six awards in total including Best Picture, but I can almost guarantee that it isn’t going to win. Which is a shame, because it really should. Let me tell you why.
This is a story that has been adapted for the screen dozens of times, so what makes this particular adaptation so special? The easiest thing to point out is the cast. But I don’t want to talk about the cast, simply because that would be too easy. I don’t want to talk about how Saoirse Ronan gave yet another Oscar-worthy performance as Jo March, earning her fourth Oscar nomination at just 25 years old. I don’t want to talk about how Florence Pugh takes Amy, a character who is portrayed as irritating and nothing else in just about every other adaptation of the novel, and turns her into a powerfully honest, inspiring heroine who everyone can embrace, and who everyone does embrace.
I also don’t want to talk about how Emma Watson portrays Meg March with so much joy and sincerity that you can’t keep your heart from melting just a little bit every time she’s on screen. I really don’t want to talk about how Eliza Scanlen plays Beth with so much goodness and love and quiet kindness that you can’t help but hope against your better judgement that maybe this time Beth doesn’t get scarlet fever.
I’m not going to mention any of that, because Best Picture shouldn’t just be the movie that has the most perfect cast. We have to actually talk about the story.
The book has existed for more than 150 years and has been adapted for the screen and stage, which means a ton of people already know the story. And yet Gerwig wrote the screenplay in such a way that makes the story feel fresh and new.
It’s difficult to adapt a well-known story into something that pleases both long-time fans and first time viewers, and yet Greta Gerwig seems to have decided that it isn’t that difficult at all, actually. Her use of non-linear storytelling, combined with new character decisions (#JusticeForAmy) and a beautiful meta-ending that addresses the speculation about why the novel ends the way it does, turned what could just be a retelling into something of its own. Something with its own personality and story to tell.
And it’s a story worth telling. Especially today. It’s a rare thing, a story that focuses on positivity. Nowadays, most movies that break into the Best Picture conversation aren’t exactly what you would call “happy.” And they certainly aren’t positive stories centered around women. Some of them have happy moments, sure, and there are even women on screen in them sometimes, but the movies that feature these things prominently don’t even get nominated.
Take a look at some of the nominees this year: Netflix’s “Marriage Story” is a movie about divorce, featuring a man who cheats on his wife. “1917” is an admittedly good movie set during WWI, but is depressing because, you know, war and stuff, and doesn’t have any women in it at all. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a Quentin Tarantino movie, which means it features women’s feet more than it features their voices. “Joker” got a Best Picture nomination too somehow, which proves my point that there’s nothing the Academy loves more than a movie that tells them that life is sad, especially when it’s a man who is telling them.
“Little Women” is different. It’s a movie that’s about women. Women who work hard. Women who are kind, brave, smart, talented, passionate, beautiful and, most of all, happy. This is a movie that teaches us about growth and loss. It shows you the rewards of hard work. It shows you that you should always help those who have less than you do, even if it means sacrificing what you already have. It teaches you to keep the ones you love close to you. It tells you to go find them too. It is a story of a nation torn apart by hatred and racism, and a family being kept together by kindness, strength and love.
This is a story by women, about women, for the world. It’s a story that we should all hear and learn from. “Little Women” is the Best Picture of 2019.