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Little Women

Little Women

If you are thinking of skipping Little Women, think again. It has been read in Louisa May Alcott’s book and seen in movies by all ages ever since it came out in 1868. Now, as a gift to all of us, Greta Gerwig has assembled and directed a superb cast in a new version that is packing theaters. It is both a tribute to the book and a salute to families of any era. Just go.

This story may have been written five decades ago but director Gerwig has dropped it into the present as she develops the sisters who are both intelligent and emotional in their search for their futures. We care about every member of this family she paints.

Saoirse Ronan creates Jo in a way so affecting that she could be a portrait of any strong woman who knows exactly what she wants. Jo is the one born to write and we are absorbed by how she thinks and what she does. When she confronts her publisher and stands up for herself, she becomes a woman who could ring true in any era. Saoirse Ronan’s creation of Jo is riveting. She draws us in and we sit in a theater audience that is rooting for her all the way. We can feel it. The entire audience has been pulled into the story and that is just where they want to be.

There isn’t one weak casting spot in the whole film. Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Elza Scanlen, and the men in smaller roles who want to marry them are winners. Even Meryl Streep contributes a fine small part. Laura Dern creates the fascinating non-judgmental mother who eventually shows us her own inner torment. She has raised four girls who are growing into fine intelligent women, all with inner drives that propel them to the goals they are choosing in the culture of their time. Now she can turn to herself.

Jo is the writer forever; Meg and Amy want to marry good men and have families; Beth, the youngest, is a talented piano player who watches her older sisters carefully for lessons in how to grow up. We feel great admiration for Louisa May Alcott. When she wrote the book in 1868, she created a tale for her generation. What an accomplishment to have written a story that has drawn readers for a full half century.

And now, in 2020 as movie lovers pack theaters, we credit both Alcott’s book and Greta Gerwig’s movie as crowds love it once more. Four teenage sisters living with their mother in Concord, Massachusetts in 1868 have been recreated in a way that enriches rather than lessens the original. There is no weakness in any of the women or the men. Each of these accomplished actors absorbed the inner emotions created by both the original author and today’s recreator. Alcott’s book became universal and Greta Gerwig’s movie is becoming just that in 2020.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Little Women
Word Count : 500
Running Time: 2:14
Rating : PG
Date : 5 January 2020

This review was posted on January 5, 2020, in Drama, Romance.

Marriage Story

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Marriage Story

Marriage Story opens beautifully as a husband and wife describe each other and the path of their marriage from day one to now. As each finishes the personal tale, we have become happy captives in their problems. The rest of the story expands our knowledge of this marriage based on that fine beginning. We have been warned there will be a divorce but have no idea where that will lead.

It’s common knowledge now that the conventional long marriage between two individuals – each different from the other – can be a big problem confirmed by divorce statistics. Within minutes we know that Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) have loved each other, love their son Henry (Azhy Robertson), and that she is coming unglued over her frustrations in the marriage. It is a welcome relief to watch it unfold without the usual Hollywood anger. This couple does not want to detest each other.

Then the lawyers come. Must lawyers always push their clients to extremes just to bolster their side of the case? Must they always be rooted in building a nasty case instead of a discussion? Nicole is an actor in California, Charlie a director in New York. He wants her there by his side, she wants to establish herself in Hollywood. Both love their son; each respects the other.

As things disintegrate, they both cherish their time with the son each of them loves so much. A haunting sentence from Nicole: “The kids – once they leave your body, they just continue going away.” We are watching a grandmother, lawyers, and shrinks who rough everything up but we never lose our affection for Nicole and Charlie. We root not so much for their marriage because we understand why it’s over, but for their deep appreciation for the decency of the other. Have the lawyers managed to shred that along with the marriage?

The audience is caught and is rooting for each. That rare situation is due to writer/director Noah Baumbach who paints the differing atmospheres of Hollywood and New York along with the essential decency of his players. Randy Newman’s score is quietly supportive rather than dominant or melodramatic. Even grief and defiance are delivered calmly and in small detail.

Every actor here seems to understand director Noah Baumbach’s determination to avoid a melodramatic divorce drama. This one unfolds with fine acting by the whole cast as the audience roots for both of them. Scarlett Johansson and Azhy Robertson, as mother and son, are quietly and consistently good which allows us to become thoroughly drawn to the gradual collapse of Adam Driver’s Charlie. His long and very deep performance captures all of us.

Watch the skillful unfolding of the small physical details that flesh out the characters and carry the story, and prepare for the finest surprise gesture that ends this movie. This is a quiet story not of a divorce war but of an unfortunate but inevitable separation.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Marriage Story
Word Count : 498
Running Time : 2:16
Rating : R
Date : November 10, 2019