Jo March (Saoirse Ronan: Mary Queen of Scots) sits in a New York publisher’s office, listening to a man tell her what women want to read. Though he has not read her submission, he says her stories need more thrills, they need more romance — and no matter what, the woman needs to be married or dead at the end.
Jo bristles. In the 1860s, there’s not much prospect for women but marriage and death. But she was raised differently. Along with her three sisters, she learned to think for herself, act independently and view herself as an equal to any man. It’s a shame, then, that no man views her as his equal.
Jo has found equality only with her sisters in the family home. Always the headstrong one fighting for independence, she is the family firebrand. Older sister Meg (Emma Watson: The Circle) is more traditional and wants a marriage and family. Little sister Beth (Eliza Scanlen: Sharp Objects) is the kindest and painfully shy with all but her siblings. The youngest of the March sisters, Amy (Florence Pugh: Midsommar), is a materialistic artist, obsessed with marrying well and becoming financially secure. Though they clash in goals and dreams, the March sisters are a unit against the outside world.
As Jo tries to find her way in a man’s world, she relies on her sisters and her mother for strength when she falters. Does Jo have a future as a writer and independent woman?
Thoughtful, sweet and often funny, Little Women is a brilliant modernization of a beloved classic. In adapting Louisa May Alcott’s story of the March women, director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) relied on Alcott’s writings about the book as well as the text itself. She has managed to shape a more modern story without losing the charm and emotion of the original.
Gerwig explores each of the sisters and what they represent, honoring them all and outlining their place in society.
Her most interesting tweak is what she does with the character of Amy. Traditionally portrayed as a worthless brat, the youngest March sister isn’t dismissed by Gerwig. Her Amy represents the many women who chose to work within the system unfairly constructed by men, using their charms to their advantage since they had no other skills valued by society. This fascinating take adds richness to an already lovely story.
Breathing life into the vibrantly realized March sisters are a team of some of the top young actress. Ronan is a vibrant force of nature as Jo. She stomps into rooms, taking up space and refusing to behave like a delicate flower. Her every action is an act of rebellion against the suggestion she be a nice young lady.
Pugh distinguishes herself as Amy March. Her careful performance highlights her character’s intelligence and strong personality. She is a mirror of Jo, just as resentful of the restrictions placed on her by society, but choosing to exploit the system rather than decry it. It’s a bold take on a character frequently dismissed as shallow.
Whether you’ve got little women in your family or want to watch a happy movie with your family over the holidays, Little Women is a winner.
Great Dramedy • PG • 134 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Deep in the trenches of World War I, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are trying to survive. Their odds decrease when the young men are tasked with crossing enemy lines to stop an ambush.
Blake has a personal stake in the mission’s success. His brother is among the men sure to die if he doesn’t get the message to them.
Director Sam Mendes is an old hand at high drama. In this film, he sets himself another challenge: The whole movie is shot to look as though it’s one take. If you’re a fan of World War I, filmmaking tricks or British character actors, 1917 should be well worth the ticket.
Prospects: Bright • R • 119 mins.
After graduating at the top of the class from Harvard Law, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) could write his own ticket. Instead of choosing to work at a fancy law firm, he goes to Alabama. His job is to defend the large number of inmates on death row, many of whom were convicted in racist trials.
His first case is Walter McMillan (Jaimie Foxx), convicted of murdering a young woman despite evidence proving he couldn’t have done it. Stevenson fights the people of Alabama, the justice system and even his client, who has given up hope of seeing justice.
Is it possible to take on the system and win?
Based on the true story of Stevenson’s crusade to stop racist, unjust death row convictions in Alabama, Just Mercy should be a great watch. Both Jordan and Foxx are terrific actors, and it will be a treat to watch them sink into serious material. Sure to be stirring and ultimately uplifting, it may not be a flick for families with young kids.
Prospects: Bright • R • 136 mins.
Spies in Disguise
International superspy Lance Sterling (Will Smith) is used to being the coolest person in any room. That changes when nerdy underling Walter (Tom Holland) in the science department of the spy agency accidentally transforms Sterling into a pigeon. Now, Sterling must get used to life as a bird and still foil evil.
Will Walter be able to change Sterling back? Or has that bird flown the coop?
If you’ve got kids, chances are this is what you’re seeing Christmas weekend. It’s a cute premise, but the jokes seem flat. Tom Holland and Will Smith might be able to fight off the doldrums with their considerable charm, but I fear they can’t save the story. Slapstick humor and lots of hijinks should keep kids entertained, however.
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 101 mins.