Published on: January 10, 2020Little Women
, in cinemas now (which is not something that one can say about a lot of worthwhile entertainments these days), is something unusual. Or so I gather. I've never read the book by Louisa May Alcott, nor have I ever seen any of the previous six film versions (the first was a silent film back in 1917, which has been lost to history), nor any of the various television adaptations. I say this not as a point of pride, but just a statement of fact. I came to Little Women
with as open a mind as one could come to a story that first saw the light of day during the Andrew Johnson administration.
I've been interested to read some of the various articles and reviews about the 2019 version, written and directed by Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird
), because the point that many of them have made that while this is a respectful adaptation of the original novel, it is not religious in its adherence to the text. The point seems to be that when Gerwig felt the need - either for narrative reasons or because a 21st century prism requires rethinking parts of the story - she veered from the original without violating the spirit of the piece.
To which I say, Bravo! Too many movies, for my taste, are so wedded to the original text and ideas as to be unsurprising, which in itself is a business lesson. Take, for example, Ron Howard's The DaVinci Code
and Angels & Demons
, based on the Dan Brown best-sellers. Both films are so rigidly adapted from the books that star Tom Hanks almost has to step around the commas; after both films, I found myself wishing that they had changed the identity if the bad guy, or added some narrative wrinkle, just to keep things interesting. But, no. Like a retailer who does things a certain way because that;'s how they've always been done, the films remain earthbound.
Watching Little Women
, I couldn't see the seams, or where new inventions has been sewn into the fabric of the original. That's a good thing. The movie is a lovely piece of filmmaking, about four teenaged girls growing up in Massachusetts during the Civil War, and about the choices they make as they move into adulthood. For most of them , like the vast majority of women for a long, long time, marriage was not just the most prudent and expected choice, but the only choice. The heroine of Little Women
, though, is Jo March, the second of the foursome, who yearns to be a writer and has no intention of marrying or settling down or settling for anything … and that, essentially is the plot, or at least as much as I am going to give away here, just on the off-chance that you haven't read the book or see any of the earlier versions either.
It seems to me, though, that Little Women
is replete with lessons. For one thing, Jo is portrayed as a published writer, but one who is underperforming, largely because she is writing what she thinks audiences want. She's making a living, but there's a vacancy in her creative soul. It is only when she decides to write of what she knows - her sisters, her upbringing and all their messiness and complications, that her writing spirit catches fire. That's a good lesson for anyone. You can't always do work or hold a job that you love, but you can know that you're going to be better at it, more committed if you're passionately connected to it.Little Women
as a great cast - Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen as her sisters, the incomparable Laura Dern as their mom, and Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, and Timothee Chalamet in various supporting roles. (You can see that Gerwig is a filmmaker people want to work with. That's a great place to be.)
Oh, and there's Tracy Letts as Jo's publisher, who almost lets (no pun intended) her best work get past him because he doesn't connect; it only is when family members read a manuscript and fall in love with it that he realizes that he may have a golden opportunity. He was practicing epistemic closure - he saw the world one way, and didn't understand that there are a myriad of attitudes and perspectives that make the world more interesting and profitable, not less so. He seems focused, because he only has round holes, to shave off Jo's edges to fit his preconceptions. Again, a big mistake, because such moves almost never take advantage of what someone actually is good at.
Terrific film, Little Women/i>. Go see it.
I must confess to being somewhat conflicted by The Two Popes. Not because I have mixed feelings about the quality of the filmmaking, which I don't. The Two Popes is about an imaginary series of meetings between Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), who will succeed him as Pope Francis when in an almost unprecedented move, Benedict decides to retire.
The meetings may be invented, but the attitudes are not - much of the dialog is taken from writing and speeches by both men. Benedict is the conservative, dogmatic, intractable protector of doctrine and tradition, in love with both power and the trappings of power, while the future Pope Francis is far more humble and connected to people, believing that the Catholic Church needs to listen more and preach less than it has.
The script, by Anthony McCarten, is an excellent piece of work - it manages to express its various opinions without seeming itself like a lecture. The direction, by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardner
) is masterful - you'll think they shot the whole thing at the Vatican and Papal summer residence. And both Pryce and Hopkins are excellent, making these two well-known public figures inescapably human. (This is a bigger lift for Hopkins, who is playing someone a lot less likable.)
Kudos, by the way, to Netflix … for making a movie that might not have been made by more traditional movie companies.
My problem with The Two Popes
, you'll forgive me, is more political in nature. Benedict is portrayed as unable to escape various controversies and scandals that are plaguing the Catholic Church - perhaps because of disposition, perhaps because of inclination, and perhaps because the problem is so deeply ingrained in the Church that one person can't address it effectively, much less solve it.
Or maybe all of the above. Francis's papacy, the movie suggests, will be a better one because of his innate goodness and compassion. But for my money, the Church has not done anything close to what it needs to do in order to weed out the evil that has infected it; I know enough about people who have been victimized by men of the cloth to feel, in my heart, that the world would be better off if many of these schools and churches were simply closed down, and these cretins were carted off to prison.
Francis, The Two Popes
argues, has a greater claim to moral authority than his predecessors. In my heart, I think he's better (especially on issues of climate change and economic inequality) but not nearly enough, and the Church in which I was raised has given up virtually all claim to any moral authority. I may be conflicted about the movie, but I'm not conflicted about that.
We had a story earlier this week about how expected tariffs on wines (and other stuff) imported into the US are likely to raise prices … and so I decided get some while the getting is good.
And so I tried the 2015 Hecht and Bannier Languedoc Blanc from France, a blend of Piquepoul Blanc and Roussanne that is delightful with seafood … and the 2015 Vernaccia di San Gimignano from Italy, which has a really nice intensity that went great with these terrific scallop and shrimp cakes that I served over sautéed spinach. Both are delicious, and cost about twenty bucks a bottle - well worth it, I think.
That's it for this week … have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.