“I suppose marriage has always been an economic proposition. Even in fiction.”
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Alcott’s classic novel blends a wonderful cast with modern feminist sensibilities. Where Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version was a direct translation of the novel, Gerwig is more ambitious in her approach. The most obvious change is choosing to tell story out of order, creating a meta narrative in the way scenes are juxtaposed. Introducing the women as young adults also reduces the inclination to infantilise them as children. It works best for those already familiar with the material as the chronology can feel slightly disjointed. Hearing of Laurie’s failed proposal at the start also robs the scene of any power when it finally arrives late in the film, but it also alters the way one views his childhood relationship with the girls. The key casting is Soirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet (both of whom starred in Gerwig’s Lady Bird). Ronan makes Jo’s proud wilfulness overtly dislikable in some scenes, trusting that we will come to understand her as the film proceeds. Meanwhile, Chalamet’s Laurie is both charming and brusque, with nuanced variation to his relationships with each of the sisters. The ambiguous ending, seemingly introduced by Gerwig as something of a critique, may offend purists, but it is entirely fitting for this adaptation.
“Getting divorced with a kid is one of the hardest things to do. It’s like a death without a body.”
In The Meyerowitz Stories, I praised Noah Baumbach’s ear for conversational dialogue, which he deploys here to greater effect in a script that prizes raw emotion above the indie intellectualism of his recent output. This is a nuanced, even-handed exploration of the personal toll of fractious divorce, worsened by legal tactical considerations (I cannot think of a starker reminder of why I considered family law for only a moment), strongly reminiscent of Kramer v Kramer. Similarly, the film rests upon two powerhouse central performance, both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson delivering award-worthy turns. They allow us to sympathise with privileged characters whose circumstances are far from universal even if their personal problems are more familiar. Of note is an intense single-take argument at the centre of the film, in which we see two people who know exactly how to hurt one another even when they have no intention of doing so. It feels slightly more scripted than the sublimely natural extended argument in Before Midnight, but it highlights perfectly the tragedy and loss of control inherent in the expiry of any loving relationship.
“I’m seeing something that was always hidden. I’m in the middle of a mystery and it’s all secret.”
David Lynch describes himself as an intuitive director rather than an intelligent one. This style is perhaps clearest in Blue Velvet which is fundamentally a series of scenes plucked from a dream, loosely threaded together under the guise of a mystery. Everything serves atmosphere rather than character or narrative, giving power to its subversive tone. Lynch and Tim Burton share the same disquiet view of American suburbia as a veneer over a darker underbelly. This is represented here as our two pristine suburban investigators collide with seedy characters drawn from film noir.