Literature adaptation "Little Women"
With "Little Women" Greta Gerwig has filmed a US classic of literature. Can she gain new pages from the often adapted coming-of-age novel?
Young girls ”, says the cheekbeared fatherly publisher who sits at an impressive desk opposite Jo March (Saoirse Ronan),“ young girls have to be married at the end of a novel. Or dead. ”Jo, who has just presented him with one of her first literary attempts and is by no means planning the marriage or the end of her protagonist, swallows. But one can see from the not exactly enthusiastic facial expression Jos that she directly questions the questionable premise.
This is what this fifth adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's best-selling book “Little Women”, published in 1868, is about: emancipation in the truest sense of the word, political liberation, which is already evident in the literary model. Actually, the horror novelist Alcott did not want to write "teenage literature" and only brought the story of the March family based on autobiographical experiences with the daughters Jo, Meg, Beth (Betty) and Amy as well as their mother Marmee and various "love interests" at the request of their publisher Paper.
But then with “Little Women” and the second part “Good Wives”, which were combined into one book, she succeeded in a colorful coming-of-age novel with a clearly drawn character and predictable conflicts – and an energetic dose of charm on the part of the designated author Jo, who was defined as a tomboy: “Jo jumped up immediately, put her hands on her hips and began to whistle cheerfully. 'Stop it, Jo! Only boys do something like that! '' That's exactly why I do it! '' I detest girls who cannot behave like women! '' And I hate affected princesses! ''
The novel and its paradigmatic characters have had a strong influence on American society for decades, if not centuries. Even in the 2000s, "Little Women" regularly appeared in the top spots of favorite book rankings. For those interested in German, it was only available in 2015 in the translation and under the title "Betty and her sisters". In addition to the historical post-civil war setting, including the associated trauma, the book exemplifies above all the American forms of communication, and can explain a lot.
"Little Women". Directed by Greta Gerwig. With Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson u. a. USA 2019, 134 min.
The noisy mess that prevails in the family home and in the way the sisters deal with one another, the friction between the characters, the mutual insinuation, the loving teasing are also in the foreground in the new adaptation of the screenwriter and actress Greta Gerwig, who with the film theirs second directorial work after "Lady Bird" presents. In addition to Ronan as Jo talking, giggling, shouting and whining, Jos's sisters Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), Beth (Eliza Scanien) and "Marmee" (Laura Dern) compete.
They form well-known but functional prototypes, applicable to almost every boy group: Meg, the oldest, is the pretty, sensible, Jo the wild, charismatic, Beth the shy, musical and Amy the little artist. When growing up, the four characters beat various capers. Jo initially wants to remain independent and not believe in love; Meg, on the other hand, follows the heart, even if it doesn't seem to make economic sense; Beth works to overcome shyness, and Amy is as self-centered as she is charming.
In addition, hearts are burning here and there, you go to the debutante ball, dress up in top hats as boys and do good, as Marmee taught. A sad fate also strikes because of the drama.
Gerwig has found great actresses for her characters, who in addition to the talent unite above all the look: The target group that keeps a close eye on the work nominated for six Oscars (including “Best Film”) in each scene is a homogeneous white juvenile clique of social media romantics who likes retro aesthetics and dances back and forth between the search for "the one" and the desire to celebrate.
object of desire
Director and screenwriter Gerwig (or her producers) even morph Jo's later husband Friedrich Bhaer, who is described in the book as an inconspicuous, older German teacher who was initially ignored by Jo, into a hot object of desire played by the young French actor Louis Garrel , They consequently introduce this in slow motion: When Jo sees the professor and his trimmed three-day beard, time stands still.
With good will, this decision could be interpreted as self-empowerment – after all, Garrel and Timothée Chalamet, Jo's best friend Laurie, are allowed to play two age-appropriate actors in the roles of Posterboys. But one suspects that there is only one thing: The cinema, desirably filled with heterosexual women, should groan collectively.
In addition to the piano strumming of emotionally experienced Alexandre Desplat, who constantly kneads the emotion center, decisions such as this Gerwigs film leave behind the other adaptations that were arrested in their time. George Cukor's first version of sound film with Katherine Hepburn as Jo, created in 1933, looks authentic with its protagonists, corkscrew-curly and dubiously portrayed in a pore-free aesthetic – you can even believe the 19th century.
And the version "Betty and her sisters" nominated for three Oscars, staged in 1994 by the Australian director Gillian Armstrong and cast with Winona Ryder as Jo and Christian Bale as Laurie, already brought with it everything that Gerwig sometimes exhibits in almost identical scenes: Humor and timing, warmth and emancipation, energy, love and heartache.
Feminist, cheeky prototype
Gerwig has been valid since her participation in the films of her partner Noah Baumbach, "Greenberg" and "Frances Ha", and her directorial debut "Lady Bird" as a feminist, cheeky prototype of the intrepid "Alpha Woman". On the other hand, with her girls' clique, she has little to add to the US mainstream cinema image of women, which changes only with difficulty after the necessary debates, apart from a few apt comments and a somewhat erratic dramaturgy that is interlinked at different time levels.
Her “Little Women” actresses with their smooth faces look like they have descended from the cover of a love novel by Barbara Cartland. Consequently, on the image and text level they remain as chaste as the original: It may be about love in the area of tension between modern gender justice, but the "body politics" date from the penultimate century. The playful, skillfully swirling dialogues are little more than good-natured banter.
In addition to others, the British director Andrea Arnold has just shown how a romantic, just as often adapted love affair from 1847 can be transferred without taking away the color of time: In 2011, the dark-skinned British actor James played in Arnold's shimmering version of Emily Brontë's “Sturmhöhe” Howson the driven outsider character Heathcliff – and gave him a strong physical authenticity.
Gerwig keeps a distance from such ideas. And so the pleasure of watching the actresses as they put on and take off colorful aprons to accompany Dallmayr Prodomo commercial music is quite fleeting.