Oscars 2020: Little Women, or ye of little faith in, um, womanhood?

My Gen X tita self is not too pleased with this Millennial take on a classic timeless book I love. Okay end of rebyu. Char! Hayst. Kasi naman. Sige payn game. Read this dissertation lol. You’ve been warned.

LITTLE WOMEN (2019)

d. Greta Gerwig

s. Greta Gerwig based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott

sc. Alexandre Desplat

c. Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep and others na nasa IMDB naman silipin mo na lang dun beh naiinis pa rin ako eh

Pitch: A not-so-middle class family made up of four teenage-ish women try to cope with adulting duties while their dad is away during the Civil War and their mom is trying to hold the house together.

Catch: Lady Bird set in the 1800s ba ituh??? Not transcendental enuf!

This film has big, like BIG shoes to fill since the 1994 film version was a huge hit and critically acclaimed din siya. Granted na ganun din ang kinalabasan nitong 2019 version at best picture nom pa siya. Still, it didn’t move me as much as the ’90s version did. Biased lang ba dahil mas Gen X ang sensibilities ng version na ‘yon at mas Millennial ang feels nitong mas bago? Medyo. Slight. Kinda. Hm, but not really din.

Nineties pa rin, mga ulol! LOL. Hay. Seriously. But yeah. I miss ’90s films. This was a great one back then. They did it right.

Alisin na natin ‘yung ’90s film. Balikan na lang natin ‘yung book siguro. Granted na may mga film adaptations talaga na lumalabas na mas brilliant minsan ang film version kesa sa book version (sorry Tolkien fans pero Peter Jackson did LOTR better huhu there I said it), medyo malaki-laki ang pagkakaiba kasi dito. I get it that the filmmaker wanted her own take on the story so she reworked the chronology bigtime. As in, the film’s present is during Jo’s adult-ish years na as a wannabe writer in New York, and unravels until the end. Ito ‘yung second half of the book, so Gerwig made the first part appear as flashbacks na lang from time to time, depende sa kung ano ang emotional focus ni Jo in a given time sa present timeline. Actually, she also made some moments of the second part as flashbacks na rin which served as back story na lang (like ‘yung nagkakilala si Jo and that professor dude).

I’m sorry but Saoirse’s Jo March is so bland here. May kulang si ati. May lasa, pero kulang sa timpla, parang ‘yung soda na wala nang ispiritu, gets?

This timeline chopping kinda messes up the organic narrative arc of the whole story, and also the individual character arcs na rin, come to think of it. It’s messy for me because you miss certain crucial character developments that you don’t immediately get in this i-flashback-na-lang-natin-‘yan style. Two big and crucial examples for me here are: 1) Laurie and Jo’s friendship which turned non-platonic for him, and 2) Amy and Laurie’s interaction which turned non-platonic for her. If you’ve read the book, keri lang kasi easy for us to follow sana. But what if you haven’t? Well, if you have or haven’t, I still don’t think it works cinematically.

The film showed how Jo and Laurie seem to be friends in their younger years, joking around a lot, kasi nga tomboyish ang character ni Jo, but it didn’t really show subtleties of this relationship that would have justified the scene nung nagtapat na si Laurie na type niya si Jo. Laylay teh. Or puwede rin kasing hindi ko na-feel sa acting ni Chalamet ito, ‘yung nuances ng character ni Laurie na, spoiled kid nga siya minsan pero naghahanap lang din kasi siya ng kalaro type (a.k.a. the poor little rich boy type) saka fini-feel din niya if worthy nga ba siya. Sorry fans of the kiddo pero hindi ko talaga siya bet umarte (eh, umaarte nga ba?) kahit doon sa critically acclaimed niyang Call Me By Your Name (snoozefest sorry).

Sorry talaga but I’m Team Christian Bale more than Team Chalamet sa tututs lang. Dami pa kakainin ni bagets. Eh si tito mong Christian magaling na umarte totoy pa lang; check out Empire of the Sun.

So kung hindi ko feel sa arte ni koya, eh parang hindi ko rin nasagap sa acting ni ati Saoirse din ito kasi. In fact, hindi ko feel ang character ni Jo March talaga sa kanya, much like hindi nagets ni Chalamet si Laurie din dito. She’s a good actress pero may roles na binabagayan siya and, sadly, I don’t think this is for her. Jo March is tomboyish, feisty, may awkwardness na laging nababanggit nga niya dito, but I don’t feel it kahit pinapakita niya (mej pilit teh). Saka hindi ko nakita ang maturity process niya dito save for the change in scenery and passage of time. But in being? Nada. Like yeah, fine, pumunta ka sa Nooyawk to be a writer. Pero para lang siyang dabogerang brat nung nag-submit siya ng story scene. Eh lalo na nung kini-critique siya ng isang heavily accented dude (na thank you dude for explicitly saying you are an immigrant wow we get it yeh) tapos dinabugan lang niya na “We are not friends” chenelyn chuva nung kini-critique na honestly ni boylet ang manuskrito niya. (Don’t even get me started sa writing-the-novel scene na ang OA lang ng peg, and you don’t feel the poignancy of it all when she finally finished the novel of their lives. Hay! Highblood na by this point!)

And all the while I was thinking din, teka sino na nga ba itong professor dude na ito sa book? As it turns out, ito nga pala ‘yung older professor dude na nakilala niya sa NYC, na nakihalubilo siya and they talk about philosphical stuff (sa 1994 version, may mention pa talaga ng belief ni book author on transcendentalism hehe kewl). That one was a huge miscast din, the dude, kasi older dapat si prof, which gives one crucial clue sa character ni Jo na perhaps she prefers older men because of the wisdom they have (something Laurie still doesn’t have kaya ligwak sa kanya ito) kasi nga may intellectual thirst din ang character niya (again, I didn’t see this kay Saoirse). Gets? Tapos talagang itodo na ang pagka-Millennial feelz nitong si ati dun sa paraan ng paghabol niya kay professor dude nung papaalis na ito sa ending. Na again, nakakaloka kasi parang naging lovesick man-hungry gel lang si ati mong Jo dito sa version na ito. I know they’re trying to make her appear like she has agency in the way she handles relations like this, but it didn’t appear that way. Instead of appearing like she is making a choice on her own, it felt like the usual rom-com “ganging up” of the protagonist’s friends/relatives egging her on to “go get the boy.” Leche. The scene after the dinner and after the prof left didn’t help; it reinforced pa nga this rom-com style of characterization. It also doesn’t help that she just ripped her “love letter-ish of marriage agreement” with Laurie when he heard na kinasal na pala si boylet sa little sis niya. Haysus ginoo, wala na kong makapitan pa. I was like, Star Cinema ba gumawa nitoooooo??? Punyemas. Panoorin niyo nga ‘yung ’90s version to see how they did it there. Si Jo ang naghabol pero hindi parang pataygutom-sa-love-romcom-style! Kainiz.

Ito si prof sa old film, Gabriel Byrne lang naman sa stature devah. Sino ba ang puwedeng ganito now? Ah alam ko na: si Christian Bale kaya? LOL. Hindi nga. Tutal mume-meta naman itong film, push na sa meta-ness niya!

And speaking of passage of time, you also don’t feel it in this movie. I can’t decipher if it’s the weakness of the script or the directing (or maybe share credits sila bilang isang tao lang naman ang tumira nun) but you don’t really feel any deeper personal change in the characters and their lives. It all appeared superficial, like they’re merely complying scene after scene, without much to add. I am reminded of how Claire Danes carried this passage of time well in the ’90s film version kasi siya ‘yung nag-play ng Beth character na nagkasakit. Feel mo talaga si ati dun sa acting at sa panghihina and all. Dito, ni hindi ka masyadong maka-relate kasi nga rin, kulang pa sa lalim o quality ng expository stuff to establish the real close bond of the sisters. Parang naging obligatory mourning na lang kasi sis nila ang nadale. Walang ma-feel na lalim — which is ironic kasi di ba nga kung pang-Millennial feel itey, di dapat puro feelz? Haysus ewan ko ba, labo labo na lang.

Dear Emma, please get roles that would suit the strong woman in you, like for real. Let’s leave the Beauty and the Beast-like depictions to others out there, k? Pretty please, my pretty? Accio better roles!

And speaking of acting chops, what a waste of Emma Watson. Hindi rin siya bagay sa role ni Meg the ate na tumiklop na lang sa buhay maybahay. Dapat siya si Jo March eh, feeling ko mas mabibigyan pa niya ito ng buhay beh. At saka it didn’t help na parang mas matanda pa si Saoirse kay ate mong Emma. Nakaka-lost sa hierarchy ng visual cues ang mga ta-artits na itey onscreen. Even if they have chemistry, it felt like it didn’t leave the set and it wasn’t transported to us audiences beyond the screen. Nada. Same din with Laura Dern. Hindi pa siya ka-Marmee-Marmee enough to feel na may command siya ng household at matapang-yet-fragile-minsan na haligi ng tahanan to hold the house up and all that jazz. Not that I’m mentally comparing her Marmee with Susan Sarandon’s Marmee in the ’90s film (well, I can’t help it, kasi nga big shoes, remembah?) but maybe this good New Yorker piece would back me up here.

Battle of the Marmees: saan ka tataya? Kay Louise na sans Thelma LOL. Di nga. Weh. #nocontest

Overall, well, I dunno, but this version doesn’t have the charm and wit of the book. It has spunk, and lots of it, especially the women-will-overcome-all-odds chenes type. It’s more of a little feminist self-empowerment project more than anything, and it’s obvious in the way Gerwig rearranged the scenes and flashbacks to serve her overall project for this adaptation. Talagang isinusubo sa iyo, with the choice quips of the characters (lalo na ‘yung kay Amy and Jo talking against marriage etc. etc.) which misses the point of the book, too: na organic at intrinsic ang feminism ng mga karakter na ito, ng mga babaeng ito. Dito sa pelikula, talagang kailangang buksan ang tinapay ng bawa’t karakter para ipangalandakang may feminist silang palaman sa gitna eh. You know what I’m saying?

Haay. Anyway, Australian Gillian Armstrong probably understood the book more when she directed the ’90s version, so I know it’s not just about having a woman director at the helm. It’s more of having a director-writer who understands the material and letting the actors also bring out its elements and guiding them all for a cohesive whole, as guided by a tight script with solid character arcs. Gerwig’s is patchi-patchi ang dating eh. Hit and miss talaga. Hayst. But yeah, I think it’s really the casting, too. Pilit, not match, and not suited. Haay.

As much as I wanted to hug all of youse womyn, argh shiver me timbers but it’s a no go.

Anyway, sige, tagal pa bago ako maka-move on sa isang ito. So pass na lang and see the other noms this year. Or maybe watch the ’90s version then this version and you do your own math. These are my calculations after all. Take it or leave it.

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