Little Women (2019 film)

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Little Women
Little Women (2019 film).jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGreta Gerwig
Produced by
Screenplay byGreta Gerwig
Based onLittle Women
by Louisa May Alcott
Starring
Music byAlexandre Desplat
CinematographyYorick Le Saux
Edited byNick Houy
Production
company
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • December 7, 2019 (2019-12-07) (MoMA)
  • December 25, 2019 (2019-12-25) (United States)
Running time
135 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$40 million[2]
Box office$209.2 million[3][4]

Little Women is a 2019 American coming-of-age period drama film written and directed by Greta Gerwig. It is the seventh film adaptation of the 1868 novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott. It chronicles the lives of the March sisters—Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth—in Concord, Massachusetts, during the 19th century. It stars an ensemble cast comprising Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, and Chris Cooper.

Sony Pictures initiated development of the film in 2013, with Amy Pascal coming on board to produce in 2015 and Gerwig hired to write its screenplay the following year. Using Alcott's other writings as inspiration, Gerwig penned the script in 2018. She was made director that same year, with the film being the second she had solely directed. Filming took place from October to December 2018 in the state of Massachusetts, with editing commencing the day after filming wrapped.

Little Women premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City on December 7, 2019, and was released theatrically in the United States on December 25, 2019, by Sony Pictures Releasing. The film received critical acclaim,[5] with particular praise for Gerwig's screenplay and direction as well as the performances of the cast. It has grossed $209.1 million worldwide. Among its numerous accolades, the film received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Pugh), and Best Adapted Screenplay, and won for Best Costume Design. It also received nominations for British Academy Film Awards and Golden Globe Awards.

Plot[edit]

In 1868, Jo March, a teacher in New York City, goes to Mr. Dashwood, an editor who agrees to publish a story she has written. Her youngest sister, Amy, who is in Paris with their Aunt March, attends a party with their childhood friend and neighbor, Laurie. Amy becomes angry at Laurie's drunken behavior, prompting him to mock her for spending time with wealthy businessman Fred Vaughn. In New York, Jo becomes hurt when Friedrich Bhaer, a professor infatuated with her, constructively criticizes her writing, causing her to end their friendship. After learning from a letter that her younger sister Beth's illness has worsened, Jo returns home to Concord, Massachusetts.

At a party with her older sister, Meg, seven years earlier, Jo befriends Laurie. On Christmas morning, the girls' mother, "Marmee", persuades them to give their breakfast to their poor neighbor Mrs. Hummel and her starving children. After returning home, they find a table full of food given to them by their neighbor and Laurie's grandfather, Mr. Laurence. Marmee then reads a letter from their father fighting in the American Civil War. Jo regularly visits Aunt March to read to her, hoping Aunt March would invite her to Europe.

When Meg, Jo, Laurie, and John—Laurie's tutor and Meg's eventual husband—go to the theatre, a jealous Amy burns Jo's writings. The next morning, Amy, wanting to make up with an upset Jo, chases her and Laurie onto a lake where the two are skating. They save Amy after she falls through the ice. Mr. Laurence notices Beth's quiet demeanor and invites her to play his late daughter's piano in his house. Meg sits down with John in the present after buying an expensive fabric they couldn't afford, during which she expresses her unhappiness about being poor. Laurie visits Amy to apologize for his behavior and urges her not to marry Fred but to marry him instead. Though in love with Laurie, Amy refuses, upset at always being second to Jo. Despite this, she turns down Fred's proposal.

Mr. Laurence gifts his piano to Beth in the past and discovers she has contracted scarlet fever from the Hummels. To avoid the illness, Amy is sent to stay with Aunt March, who advises her to provide for her family by marrying well. John urges Meg to turn the fabric into a dress in the present to make her happy. Meg reveals she had sold it and reassures him of her happiness as his wife. Beth recovers in time for Christmas in the past, during which their father returns home as well. After worsening in the present, Beth dies. On Meg's wedding day in the past, Jo tries to convince her to run away, but Meg expresses her elation to marry John. Aunt March announces her European trip but takes Amy instead of Jo. After the wedding, Laurie proposes to Jo, who rejects him, explaining that she does not see herself married.

Marmee reveals Amy is returning from Europe with an ill Aunt March in the present. Jo wonders whether she was too quick to turn Laurie down and writes him a letter. Preparing to leave, Amy tells Laurie she turned down Fred's proposal; they kiss and later marry on the journey home. Jo and Laurie agree to only be friends, after which she discards the letter she wrote to him. Jo begins to write a novel based on her and her sisters' lives and sends the first chapters to an unimpressed Mr. Dashwood. Bhaer surprises Jo by turning up at the March house on his way to California.

In New York, Mr. Dashwood agrees to publish Jo's novel after his daughters demand to know how it ends, but he refuses to accept the protagonist remaining unmarried in the end. To appease him, Jo ends her novel with the protagonist, herself, stopping Bhaer from leaving for California. She successfully negotiates copyright and royalties with Mr. Dashwood. Following Aunt March's passing, Jo inherits her house and opens it as a school, where Meg, Amy, and Bhaer all teach. Jo observes the printing of her novel, titled Little Women.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development and casting[edit]

In October 2013, it was announced that a new film adaptation of the novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was in development at Sony Pictures, with Olivia Milch writing the screenplay, and Robin Swicord and Denise Di Novi serving as producers.[6] In March 2015, Amy Pascal joined as a producer on the new adaptation, with Sarah Polley hired to write the script and potentially direct.[7] Ultimately, Polley's involvement never went beyond initial discussions.[8] In August 2016, Greta Gerwig was hired to write the screenplay.[9] In June 2018, Gerwig was announced as the film's director in addition to being its screenwriter.[10] She had heard about Sony's plans to adapt the book in 2015 and urged her agent to get her in touch with the studio, conceding that while she "was not on anybody's list to direct this film", it was something she aspired to do, citing how the book inspired her to become a writer and director.[11] In addition to being Gerwig's first studio film she had directed, Little Women was her second solo directorial endeavor.[12][13]

It was also announced in June 2018 that Meryl Streep, Emma Stone, Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, and Florence Pugh had been cast in undisclosed roles.[14] Gerwig had worked with Ronan and Chalamet in her solo directorial debut film, Lady Bird,[15] while she sought to cast Pugh after seeing her performance in the film Lady Macbeth.[16] Eliza Scanlen, who Gerwig watched star in the miniseries Sharp Objects,[17] joined the cast the following month.[18] James Norton and Laura Dern were cast in August.[19][20] That same month, Emma Watson joined the cast, replacing Stone who had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with promoting The Favourite.[21] In September, Louis Garrel, Bob Odenkirk, and Chris Cooper joined the cast in supporting roles.[22][23][24] New Regency Pictures was announced as an additional financier on the film in October.[25]

Writing[edit]

Gerwig began writing the screenplay during a trip to Big Sur, California following the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony, using Alcott's letters and diaries as well as "19th-century paintings of young women" as inspirations.[17] She also took inspiration from Alcott's other stories for the dialogues.[26] Gerwig wrote many overlapping lines of dialogue that would be "read on top of one another."[27] In addition, she stated that a monologue in the film was inspired by a conversation she had with Streep about "the challenges women faced in the 1860s".[28] To "focus the film on [its characters] as adults", Gerwig incorporated a nonlinear timeline.[29] The ending differs from that in the novel by depicting "the pleasures of a romance inside a story about Alcott realizing her artistic ambitions", which Gerwig believed honors Alcott's true vision given that Alcott had to "satisfy the era's narrative expectations".[30][31]

Costume design[edit]

The film required "roughly 75 principal period costumes", each of which took "approximately 40 hours" to create.[17] The costume designer, Jacqueline Durran, combined "a free sartorial spirit" and "the traditional Victorian stiffness" in costuming the characters.[32] Wanting to make "vintage clothes look covetable to the modern viewer", she paired "woollen sontags" with "preppy plaid skirts", "long crimson capes", and "jaunty newsboy caps".[33] She distinguished the characters' childhood and adulthood wardrobes while keeping in mind "the internal logic of each one" and maintaining "the connection between the two", with each character being assigned a "core color", including red for Ronan's character, green and lavender for Watson's, brown and pink for Scanlen's, and light blue for Pugh's.[34] She also had the characters share and reuse the same wardrobe pieces to reinforce their relationships with each other.[35] In addition to styling Ronan's character in "baggy cotton dresses" as well as "plain woolly skirts",[33] she incorporated "modern references" and used "a young Bob Dylan", the Teddy Boy subculture, and French artist James Tissot's painting The Circle of the Rue Royale as inspirations to style Chalamet's.[36]

Filming and editing[edit]

Filming primarily took place in Harvard, Massachusetts.

The cast, with the exception of Pugh due to her filming commitments to the film Midsommar, began rehearsals for the film two weeks prior to filming.[27] Principal photography began in Boston in October 2018,[37] with Harvard, Massachusetts, serving as the main location.[38] Additional locations included Lancaster, Harvard University in Cambridge, Crane Beach in Ipswich, and Concord, all in the state of Massachusetts.[39][40] The March family house was built from scratch on a plot in Concord,[17] while Harvard's Arnold Arboretum was used to shoot a scene set in a 19th-century Paris park with Pugh, Chalamet, and Streep.[41] Castle Hill in Ipswich was also utilized to double for European scenes.[42] Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux shot the film in 35 mm format.[43]

Gerwig found out that she was pregnant during production and kept it private throughout.[12] She also imposed a ban on cellphones on set during filming.[44] After principal photography wrapped on December 16, 2018, Gerwig began editing the film alongside editor Nick Houy the next day and later screened it for Sony Pictures executives in New York City on March 10, 2019, three days prior to giving birth to a son.[31]

Music[edit]

French composer Alexandre Desplat composed the score.[45] Gerwig had been a fan of Desplat's score for the film Birth and aspired to work with him, while he "loved" Lady Bird.[46] Desplat said in an interview that Gerwig specified that she would like the music to be "a mix of Mozart meeting Bowie",[47] with her later saying that she had enlisted him for the "beautiful but not saccharine" and "exacting" qualities of his music.[48] He employed an orchestra that included a piano, harp, flute, clarinet, and celesta.[49] The score was released on December 13, 2019.[50]

Release[edit]

On June 19, 2019, Vanity Fair released the first stills,[51] with the official trailer being released on August 13.[52] Little Women had its world premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City on December 7, 2019,[53] and was also screened to open the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival on December 9.[54] It was theatrically released in the United States on December 25, 2019, by Sony Pictures Releasing.[55][56] Deadline Hollywood reported that Sony spent an estimated $70 million promoting the film.[57]

Little Women was originally scheduled for a theatrical release in China on February 14, 2020, but this was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[58] The film was released digitally on March 10, 2020, and on DVD and Blu-ray on April 7.[59][60] In May, Variety reported that it was once again intended for a China release at an unspecificed date following the pandemic.[61] The film was released in Denmark and Japan in June after both countries re-opened their theaters following pandemic lockdowns.[62] It will eventually be released in China on August 25.[63]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Little Women has grossed $108.1 million in the United States and Canada, and $101.1 million in other countries, for a worldwide total of $209.2 million, against a production budget of $40 million.[3][4] In April 2020, Deadline Hollywood calculated its net profit to be $56 million.[57]

In the United States and Canada, the film was released alongside Spies in Disguise and the expansion of Uncut Gems, and was projected to gross $18–22 million from 3,308 theaters over its five-day opening weekend. It made $6.4 million on Christmas Day and $6 million on its second day,[64] and went on to debut to $16.8 million (a total of $29.2 million over the five-day Christmas period), finishing in fourth.[65][66] In its second weekend, the film grossed $13.6 million, finishing third.[67] It then made $7.8 million and $6.4 million, respectively, the following weekends.[68][69]

In June 2020, the film grossed $495,000 and $255,000 during its opening weekend in Japan and its second weekend in Denmark, respectively.[70] That same month, it passed $100 million at the international box office following releases in 12 other markets.[71]

Critical response[edit]

Saoirse Ronan (left) and Florence Pugh were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 95% based on 402 reviews, with an average rating of 8.54/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "With a stellar cast and a smart, sensitive retelling of its classic source material, Greta Gerwig's Little Women proves some stories truly are timeless."[72] On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 91 out of 100, based on 57 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[73] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale, and viewers surveyed by PostTrak gave it an average five out of five.[65]

Writing for IndieWire, Kate Erbland highlighted Gerwig's "ambitious elliptical storytelling" and commended her direction for being neither "heavy-handed" nor "preachy".[74] Anthony Lane of The New Yorker said that it "may just be the best film yet made by an American woman".[75] The Associated Press's Lindsey Bahr also praised Gerwig's direction, deeming it an "astonishing accomplishment" and an "artist's statement".[76] Awarding the film three-and-a-half out of four, Brian Truitt of USA Today lauded Gerwig's writing as "magnificent" and said it "makes Alcott's time and language feel effervescently modern and authentically nostalgic".[77] Mick LaSalle, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, gave the film a mixed review, in which he complimented Gerwig's direction but criticized the nonlinear timeline and the "snooty" characters.[78]

Critics praised the cast's performances, with David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter highlighting their "lovely ensemble work", and TheWrap's Alonso Duralde saying that there was not "a single artificial moment" from any of the actors.[79][80] Caryn James of BBC Online called Ronan's performance "luminous",[81] and Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt suggested that she "carries nearly every scene she's in".[82] David Sims of The Atlantic highlighted Pugh's performance, writing that she turned her character into "a heroine as rich and compelling as [Ronan's]",[83] while The Independent's Clarisse Loughrey stated that Pugh "manages to steal the show".[84] In his review for NPR, Justin Chang hailed both Ronan and Pugh's performances as "blazingly good".[85] Chalamet was also praised by Peter Travers of Rolling Stone and Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post for the "innate charm and poignant vulnerability" as well as "playful physicality" in his performance.[86][87]

While the film overall received six Academy Award nominations, Gerwig was not nominated for Best Director, which was deemed a snub.[88][89] Allison Pearson of The Telegraph labeled this a "whole new standard of idiocy", opining that it "belittles women's experience",[90] while Slate's Dana Stevens theorized that Academy members believe that "women can only have a little recognition, as a treat" and that Gerwig "may now safely be ignored" since she had been previously nominated for Lady Bird.[91] Writing for the Los Angeles Times, social psychologists Devon Proudfoot and Aaron Kay concluded that the snub was due to a "general psychological tendency to unwittingly view women's work as less creative than men's".[92]

Accolades[edit]

At the 92nd Academy Awards, Little Women received six nominations, including for Best Picture, Best Actress (Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Pugh), and Best Adapted Screenplay,[93][94] and won for Best Costume Design.[5][95] The film also received nine nominations at the 25th Critics' Choice Awards, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay,[96][97] five nominations at the 73rd British Academy Film Awards,[98] and two at the 77th Golden Globe Awards.[99] It was chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the top ten films of the year.[100]

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