Viewers confused by great film: Never let it be said that the men and women of Vox have failed to promote Greta Gerwig's Little Women.
In a fascinating display of tribal propagandistics, the film became a cause celebre when it failed to receive sufficient award nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and from the Golden Globes.
When Gerwig didn't get an Oscar nomination as Best Director, that was an obvious outrage too. At Vox, the voices swung into action:
Constance Grady, 12/14/19:Full disclosure! In the January 24 colloquy, no one actually said that Little Women should win the Oscar for Best Picture. Some headline writer apparently thought that bogus claim improved the sense of sweet outrage.
Why schools refuse to treat Little Women as a great American novel
And the rest of the week’s best writing on books and related subjects.
Alissa Wilkinson, 12/20/19:
Greta Gerwig’s Little Women adaptation is genuinely extraordinary
The new movie doesn’t “update” the novel. It does something much better.
The power of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is that it doesn’t pretend its marriages are romantic
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has an intentionally unsatisfying ending. Greta Gerwig weaponizes it.
Wilkinson, Grady and Haggerty, 1/24/20:
Greta Gerwig’s fresh take on Little Women won’t win Best Picture, but it should
Our roundtable discusses the Oscar chances for Greta Gerwig’s beautiful adaptation of a beloved old story.
Meanwhile, it was in the December 27 piece that we learned the reason why people who love Alcott's book hate its ending so much. Jo March shouldn't have married Professor Bhaer because the fellow's too fat! See yesterday's report.
We'll return to that remarkably instructive claim in tomorrow's report. For today, we'll focus on a remarkably brave admission which has now been made at Vox.
In the past few days, the site's fanpunditry has continued. The essays in question are these:
Alex Abad-Santos, 2/3/20:In the first of these new essays, Abad-Santos salutes Gerwig's courage in creating a version of Amy March the viewer can actually like.
Greta Gerwig’s Little Women convinced me I would die for Amy March
Greta Gerwig’s Little Women dared to imagine a story where Amy isn’t a villain.
Emily Todd VanDerWerff, 2/3/20:
Why Little Women and The Witcher are kind of the same
Jumbled timeline storytelling is becoming more and more popular, especially on TV.
His opening passage gives us a sense of how fraught these discussions have been Over Here within our failing progressive tribe. We also see the lockstep veneration of Gerwig which has widely arisen—and, perhaps, the intellectual caliber of our underperforming tribe:
ABAD-SANTOS (2/3/20): I never read Little Women growing up (the boys in my middle school were pushed to read Hatchet and Call of the Wild), nor have I seen the iconic 1994 Winona Ryder-led touchstone. Which is why I was surprised to learn that, after watching Greta Gerwig’s splendid adaptation and feverishly talking about it with anyone that would give me a chance, Amy March (played by Florence Pugh) has not historically been a fan favorite.Yesterday, we learned from Grady's 12/27 piece that Jo March shouldn't have married Professor Bhaer because Bhaear was unattractive and fat. Today, Abad-Santos extends the general picture as he applauds Amy March for her "ambition to marry rich."
In fact, the youngest March sister is far from beloved: Amy March, prior to Gerwig’s adaptation, has traditionally been seen as the novel’s villain.
My gushing over Pugh’s performance; my love for Amy’s “economic proposition” scene; and my proclamations that Amy’s ambition to marry rich and live a good life with Timothee Chalamet spoke to my soul were met with some reproach. This more empathetic, even likable version of her character never existed in Little Women, I was told, until now.
[N]ow, after listening to my friends rip Amy’s behavior to shreds and then reading the novel, I completely agree with the OG Amy haters. Yet that character bears little resemblance to the one I fell in love with watching Greta Gerwig’s version of the film. And knowing how Amy was originally portrayed only makes me love the first Amy March I met, Florence Pugh’s Amy, that much more. Gerwig and Pugh’s appreciation for Alcott and Amy, and the more textured take on the character we get as a result, is the single best thing about this fantastic movie.
In these ways, we may perhaps learn about current "progressive" values.
That said, does Abad-Santos' "gushing" over this "fantastic" film rise to the level of scholarship one might expect from the liberal intelligentsia? Is it possible that a tribe which has reduced itself to this level has, over the many years, helped buy itself a Trump?
Such assessments are always subjective. That said, the tributes to Gerwig's fantastic and splendid adaptation continue to roll in at Vox.
With that, we move on to the VanDerWerff piece—and good God! Speaking of daring, did she actually dare to say it? As she starts, does VanDerWerff say that many people found Gerwig's film confusing?
VANDERWERFF (2/3/20): Over the holidays, I had a truly unexpected realization: People were having the same major complaint about Netflix’s weirdo fantasy The Witcher as they were about director Greta Gerwig’s sweet-tempered adaptation of Little Women. Despite the former garnering incredibly mixed reviews (though solid viewership, at least according to Netflix) and the latter becoming one of the most beloved movies of the year (by critics and audiences), it wasn’t hard for me to find folks on social media asking just what was going on in either of them.In an earlier post, we reposted comments by various people who did in fact find Gerwig's film confusing. To review those remarks, just click here.
Little Women got less of this confused reaction, which makes sense. It is, after all, based on a beloved American novel that had been adapted numerous times before Gerwig’s movie. But even with that in its corner, the movie’s time-jumbled narrative, in which it leaps between present and past with thrilling abandon, filling in gaps as the story goes, left at least some viewers confused.
“Gerwig has thrown linear storytelling to the wind, and opted for a series of unidentified flashbacks and flash forwards. But in a chronicle with so many characters and locales as Little Women, that’s a great disservice to anyone who’s new to it all,” wrote critic Ed Symkus, who’s actually familiar with the story. But Symkus fears that those who aren’t as familiar will be too confused by the film to properly enjoy it.
For ourselves, we've seen Gerwig's well-reviewed film three separate times. The first time, we found its endless time shifts extremely confusing, so we went back and skimmed the novel. We also rewatched Gillian Armstrong's 1994 Little Women, which starts in the beginning and moves on toward the end.
Thus fortified, we went back to see Gerwig's film two additional times. Even the third time we watched the film, we still found it confusing. To us, it still seemed like an ambitious screenplay which had massively failed.
That's the way it seemed to us—but Academy screenwriters disagreed, or possibly bowed to societal pressure. They gave Gerwig a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Misogynists at the Golden Globes had denied her this honor.
VanDerWerff goes on to offer an explanation for why some people have found Gerwig's film confusing. According to VanDerWerff, they haven't watched enough of the modern TV shows whose story-lines jump around in a similar manner.
Is that why a significant number of people have found the film confusing? Everything is possible! Along the way, VanDerWerff almost seems to cop to a tiny bit of initial doubt herself:
"I loved Little Women, but as I left the theater, I found myself wondering why it was assembled nonchronologically," she bravely admits.
She goes on to become the ten millionth writer to say that you can tell where the story line is by the length of Amy's bangs. And good news! By the end of her essay, she agrees that Gerwig has assembled the greatest film ever:
"The more I’ve thought about Little Women’s story construction, the more I’ve come to love it."
Are such happy critical endings now required by Hard Tribal Law? Again, you're asking a sensible question, but one which can't be answered.
Today, we extend all praise to VanDerWerff for acknowledging the fact that a substantial number of people found Little Women confusing. When true believers go on a stampede, such heresies are rarely voiced.
That said, we continue to be amazed by the caliber of the work being done at Vox. Tomorrow, we'll return to Grady's heartfelt claim that Professor Bhaer was too f*cking fat for beloved Jo to marry.
We'll take a longer look at Alcott's text in search of comprehension. But uh-oh! According to experts with whom we consult, when progressives voices express such values, a Trump won't be far behind.
Tomorrow: Why did Jo marry a fatso like Bhaer? In search of modern progressive values, we take a fuller look at Alcott's text