And other heretical tales: We'll start with a bit of full disclosure—we've seen Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Little Women three (3) separate times.
On Friday, December 26—it was one day after Christmas—we tried to see the well-reviewed film. We headed off with our sister, our niece and our niece's two transplendent daughters, ages 13 and 7.
Alas! Despite the well-documented refusal of men to attend the film, the theater was sold out—and we were on the train for home the very next day.
After returning to our sprawling campus, we attended the film the following Monday. We're forced to admit that we found it confusing, due to its many flashbacks, flashforwards and memory insertions.
Since then, we've seen the film two more times, and we may go yet again. We never haven't found it confusing, which doesn't necessarily mean that it actually is.
Critical judgments differ. Some people thought Proust went on too long; some found Ulysses confusing! It's said that there's no accounting for taste, and critical judgments are, in the end, inevitably subjective.
Is Little Women confusing? In chopping the narrative up into bits, did Gerwig's screenplay turn Little Women into Les Demoiselles d'Avignon?
Inevitably, assessments will differ! That said, it turns pout that we aren't alone in our reaction. Consider what happened when the New York Times blew the whistle on the instant boycott of the film—a boycott quickly put in place by angry American men.
Kristy Eldredge based her whistle-blowing on some rather shaky evidence. Most remarkable was the tweet by Janet Maslin, the long-time New York Times film and book reviewer, in which Maslin set off an angry stampede by reporting that she knew three men who weren't planning on attending the film.
You'd almost think that three (3) would seem like a rather small "N," even to a career Timesperson. In this case, that bit of caution was bypassed. Maslin's tweet touched off an angry panic, with the Eldredge exposé not real far behind.
According to major anthropologists, when the rational animal has a point to make, almost any evidence will do! In reaction to Eldredge's essay, waves of Times readers appended comments in which they explained what "men" will and won't do.
Like so many other colloquies, the foolishness of this discussion surpassed all standard understanding. That said, quite a few comments to Eldredge's piece came from people who had seen the new film and said they'd found it confusing. Just the way we had!
Most of Eldredge's three million commenters hadn't yet seen the new film. (Actual number: 1,390.) Some who had seen it said that they loved it. But also, just in the early going, others made comments like these:
COMMENT FROM NEW YORK CITY: I saw it at an awards screening where Ms. Gerwig spoke for an hour afterwards. I found her much more interesting than the film.We haven't read through all the comments to Eldredge's piece, or even through most of the comments. But these early commenters gave us our self-esteem back!
There's nothing wrong with this adaptation of LW. It's well done and beautifully shot. Like many others who have commented here, I found the back and forth narratives confusing and don't think it embellished the storytelling.
COMMENT FROM RALEIGH: I saw it. It was a beautiful film. But the jumping back and forth in time was unnecessarily confusing.
COMMENT FROM WESTERN MASS: I recently watched the 3-part series on PBS and liked it more than the new film. I thought the time-shift, out-of-book-sequence production was confusing and ruined the delicious tension of the major plot lines.
COMMENT FROM CALAIS, VT: I didn't like all the time-jumping. 1994's version was—to me, a boomer white male—the finest of all. The girls were actually seemed like girls and not obviously-20-somethings trying to act younger and visibly un-changed throughout the entire film...My female wife agrees!
COMMENT FROM OTTAWA: I saw it last night with my adult daughter and we enjoyed it. It looks beautiful. The cast is good, (though I think Amy and Beth should be played by adolescents in scenes from the early years of the story.) But it’s not a great adaptation. Gerwig’s choice not to be chronological in her story telling was VERY confusing and this is coming from someone who has re-read the novel and seen every movie adaptation multiple times. It is not a flawless film by any means.
COMMENT FROM NIAGARA FALLS: We saw it at a special preview, and you’d be hard-pressed to explain to me, who loves the book and loves movies, why a story set during the 1860s needs to feel like a busy contemporary romantic-comedy. Additionally, the flashbacks and flashforwards were annoying and distracting.
...All that plot jumping around was a mistake on the part of the director, who should have let Louisa May Alcott’s writer’s voice carry along the moviegoer.
COMMENT FROM NEW YORK CITY: I adore the book "Little Women." I have read and re-read it many times over my 60+ years. I am a full-time working woman with three adult daughters. I have seen many of the previous film and television versions... I saw this movie.
And I didn't like it.
Certainly it is beautiful, with much attention to detail in clothing and location. But the back and forth of time is a style that I personally find unlikable: sure, I know the narrative and the actual timeline of events. But was this film made only for devotees of Louisa May Alcott?
COMMENT FROM ALASKA: Both my wife and I were quite disappointed with this latest film version of Little Women. Perhaps our disappointment was compounded by the generally glowing reviews the film has received; so, we had high expectations...[T]he rapid fire flash forwards and flashbacks were often at least briefly confusing. The confusion was due, in part, to the fact that the very young March girls were played by the same actresses as the March women in their later years...
We weren't the only ones who found the film's chronological slicing-and-dicing confusing! That said, we also tended to agree with comments which suggested that the casting added to the problem.
In our view, the oldest sister looked like the youngest, and the youngest sister seemed like the oldest. At least for us, this added to the difficulty in managing the confusion brought on by the endless time shifts.
In fairness, we've learned, since then, that you're supposed to know what year the film is in by noting the length of Amy's bangs. These and other tips have come from the many devoted fans of the film found among our liberal journalists in these wild west journalistic years.
At any rate, how about it? Is the new Little Women confusing?
Left on our own, we would have thought that Gerwig was a perhaps bit over-ambitious with her screenplay, and that the screenplay basically failed. Plainly, though, that doesn't seem to be the view of Gerwig's professional peers.
Out in Tinseltown, the full academy gave Little Women an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, one of nine such nominations this year. The academy's screenwriters gave Gerwig a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, one of ten screenplay nominations overall.
That said, the academy's directors denied Gerwig a Best Director nomination, a category in which only five nominations are given. This was widely denounced as a sexist "snub." Within a journalistic realm in which the comments of three (3) men can touch off a furious tribal stampede, the mathematics of ten nominations versus five will inevitably be too hard to ponder or to parse.
We now live in the world of Donald J. Trump. According to leading anthropologists, "a vast stable dumbness" helped bring us to this perilous place.
These experts claim that this remarkably stable dumbness isn't all found Over There, They claim that the remarkable flaps about Gerwig's film have often been embarrassing, tilting over toward comical. But in that sense, these experts say, the flaps have been highly instructive.
Tribal longings serpentine though the volumes of punditry surrounding this well-reviewed film. As we all sit here "on the beach," awaiting the outbreak of Mister Trump's War, we think there may be a lot to learn from the frequently comical pundit wars surrounding the latest Little Women, and from an array of current claims concerning related matters.
How do tribal longings drive the rational animal's conduct? Tomorrow, with expert scholars on hand to help, we'll consider a few of the ways Gerwig changed her source material.
Tomorrow, we'll start with Professor Bhaer. In the book, he marries Jo March. Jo even marries him!
Jo March marries Professor Bhaer. But was the fat fellow too "stout?"
Tomorrow: Also, too "unattractive"
By the end of the week: The transplendent My Brilliant Career, with all its ties to Gerwig's new film. With great pleasure, "we recall the night the audience gasped when Judy said no to Sam."