Writers in movies: “Little Women”

I haven’t done one of these in a while. I assume you’ve all seen Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, so I don’t have to include spoiler alerts.

The difficulty with portraying writers in movies is that they’re mostly boring people, and what they do is mostly boring. Scribble scribble. In Little Women, Jo March is scribbling in her attic room by lantern light. When she finally gets the idea that she should be writing the story of her family rather than fantastical adventure stories, she starts scribbling really fast. This is fine, because I would watch Saoirse Ronan scribbling names from the telephone book. But anyway, Greta Gerwig has Ronan’s right hand cramp up, so she switches the pen to her left hand and keeps scribbling. This is a lovely touch!

And then we see the accumulating pages laid out on the attic floor. Five pages, then quick cut to ten pages, then to twenty, and so on. She’s making progress! This is fine, but I was bothered by the lanterns on the floor illuminating the pages. That’s because I had PTSD from the scene earlier in the movie when sister Amy burned Jo’s novel page by page after Jo wouldn’t let Amy join her and Laurie at the theater. Don’t put the pages of your novel near a source of fire, Jo!

In the movie we get a big, sisterly fight when Jo discovers what Amy has done, then some parental words about forgiveness from Marmy, and a couple of scenes later Jo and Laurie save Amy from drowning after she falls through some pond ice. Don’t do it, Jo and Laurie! Drowning in icy water is a fitting punishment for burning someone’s novel!

I digress. The scenes of grown-up Jo negotiating with the hard-nosed New York editor are lovely. I was afraid the whole flashback approach Gerwig came up with would be irritating, but it wasn’t at all. (The Irishman uses a double-flashback structure that also worked OK, although the complexity of the device seemed unnecessary.) Anyway, Gerwig took a big risk, I thought, when she goes all meta on us and has Jo and the editor discussing the climax to her book, and he convinces her to have a scene where the heroine gets together with her hot boyfriend Friedrich — a scene that didn’t take place in real life or in the real book. But that’s the scene we see in the movie. And it was nicely done! (The excellent 1994 version of the book just includes a comparable get-together scene with the boyfriend — Gabriel Byrne in that case — without the narrative hijinks.)

Anyway, the movie was really good. Bring your hot writer boyfriend or girlfriend to see it.

2 thoughts on “Writers in movies: “Little Women”

  1. “I assume you’ve all seen Greta Gerwig’s Little Women”. I assume you’re being ironic. Can you comment on the Twitter controversy wherein lots of men are getting lots of grief for saying either that they didn’t like it or have no intention of seeing it. (I will admit that I didn’t see it but that’s only because I only see movies that are on Netflix.)

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    • When we saw the movie, there were maybe two guys in an audience of about a 100. But this was on a Saturday afternoon three weeks into the run, and even if there weren’t many men, that’s a huge crowd. IMDB tells me it has a worldwide gross of $113 million with a budget of $40 million. That’s a hit. Frankly, I wouldn’t have been especially interested in seeing it if it hadn’t gotten rave reviews — not because of the subject matter, though, but because I have fond memories of the 1994 version and didn’t expect this new one to top it. But in any case, it showed that you don’t need to bring in the people who like superheroes to make money. Different strokes for different folks; Mary won’t be seeing 1917 or The Two Popes.

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