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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

There have been a lot of Little Women film adaptations. Most of you who go to the movies or watch them on TV are probably most familiar with the 1994 adaptation that starred Winona Ryder; the little vampire from Interview With the Vampire; and Batman. I recall liking that one. I mean, it had Batman and Vampire Girl in it, for God’s sake. And the girl from Beetlejuice!

Now comes the umpteenth adaptation of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel—and it’s safe to say this one is the best adaptation of the story. Ever. Directed by rising directorial juggernaut Greta Gerwig (the magnificent, ultra-fantastic Lady Bird), who has a vision with her films that declares, “Hey, we aren’t screwing around here!” her third feature effort is a stunner across the board.

It’s a beautiful thing to look at due to some of the year’s best art direction and camerawork. It’s chock full of tremendous performances, and it’s written and directed by Gerwig, whose vision makes this an admirable update of a precious work.

Saoirse Ronan, who also starred in Lady Bird, headlines as Jo March, eldest sister of the March clan, which also includes Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen). Ronan, not surprisingly, makes the intrepid character of Jo her own; she’s a budding writer who is trying to get her ideas past a crusty editor (Tracy Letts, who had a damn fine 2019).

Gerwig, in a departure from past adaptations, focuses more on the girls as adults, with flashbacks to their younger days. As a result, she has chosen not to cast Amy with two different actresses. Pugh, who is well into her 20s, plays Amy at every stage, even falling through the ice as a pre-teen. I’d say that was an odd choice, but the other choice would have meant less screen time for Pugh, and I say a big “no” to that. She doesn’t look like she’s 12, but who cares? She’s a master in every scene.

Timothée Chalamet steps in for Batman as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, and there couldn’t have been a better choice for the role. His first dance with Jo, where they go a little crazy outside on a porch alone during a party, is as timeless as movie dancing gets. Chalamet has such skill and charm with every line delivery that not a single second of his movie time is wasteful.

My one minor quibble with the film: Gerwig is so damned ambitious with the way she shows the many timelines—out of chronological order—that there were definitely moments when I was a little confused. Again, it’s a minor quibble, because even though Little Women is occasionally confusing, it is always enjoyable.

Filmmakers: This is how you do a period piece, dammit. It’s a fresh take that makes you feel like you are seeing a story for the first time, even when you’ve seen that story multiple times before. This Little Women also transports you to another time—and it doesn’t hurt to have Meryl Streep (as Aunt March) in your period piece. Always a good thing.

Driving it all home are characters you root for, played by one of 2019’s greatest ensembles. All hail Greta Gerwig for bringing this group together in delightful, superbly entertaining fashion.

Up next for Gerwig? Possibly a Barbie movie with Margot Robbie. I am curious to see how that one pans out. It’s going to be interesting if it moves forward … because films are always interesting when Greta Gerwig is at the helm.

Little Women is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After two feature-directing credits, it’s safe to declare writer-director Ari Aster a master of horror. Midsommar, the sophomore effort after his masterpiece Hereditary, is 2 1/2 hours of nerve-fraying terror, staged mostly in broad daylight—and it’s a thing of demented beauty.

Dani (Florence Pugh, who is dynamite) and Christian (Jack Reynor, who is excellent) are having relationship issues. Dani is super-dependent on Christian during a major time of need; her sister is constantly bombarding her with toxic emails. Christian halfheartedly provides what he tries to pass off as sage advice, but his heart isn’t in it—and he’s starting to think a break-up might make sense.

Tragedy then strikes Dani’s family, and it’s time for Christian to step up. His solution? Take Dani along on what was supposed to be a bro trip to Sweden for a traditional family summer festival. He sort of asks her to go; she sort of says yes; and before you know it, Dani is on a plane to Sweden with Christian and his friends.

Christian’s crew consists of Mark (the always-good Will Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper) and the resident Swede, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), the smiley-faced dude who suggested the trip. His family is at the core of the festival, and he can’t wait to show his pals their idea of a good time.

Shortly after arriving, Dani and friends ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms. The weirdness kicks in immediately—and the movie comes off as a really bad trip. Take note of the paintings on the walls throughout the film; they provide fun hints of the terrors to come. When two elderly members of the happy tribe show a sick form of commitment to the festival, it’s an act that would make reasonable people flee. However … Christian and Pelle are doing a thesis for school, so they write off the strange goings-on as “tribal” and stick around until the very end. Bad, bad call.

That end is a real scorcher, a final testament to lousy significant others. Pugh, so good in this year’s Fighting With My Family, makes a grand statement with this movie: She’s an acting force. She puts everything on the table, and it pays off in a performance that will surely be one of the year’s most memorable (as was Toni Collette’s lead performance in last year’s Hereditary). Chris Pratt-lookalike Reynor is a well-placed and sound counterpart, but this is Pugh’s show.

One of the pleasures of Midsommar is that it’s obvious where things are going. Lots of clues are put right in front of your face as the sun shines brightly. While the movie is a deliberately paced slow burn, the 2 1/2 hours go by pretty quickly. Aster never loses the sense of dread, so while you could call the movie predictable in some ways, it’s not anything resembling a letdown. It’s a movie that constantly delivers on the dread it promises in its every frame.

According to Aster, he was going through his own dark relationship issues when putting this film together. I feel very sorry for the person on the other side of that relationship. Aster’s dark soul runs very deep, and he’s a great writer. Some poor soul had their ass handed to them in the final email exchanges.

Midsommar stands as a nice companion piece to Hereditary. I see myself enduring a delightfully miserable double-feature in the near future and purposefully bumming myself out—because, you know, that’s why we watch horror films. Aster has a way of putting a lot of pain and nightmare fuel on the screen while somehow making it all very entertaining. As he did last year, he’s made one of 2019’s best films.

Midsommar is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews