I was supposed to go to the gym the other day but instead, I wound up at the movie theater watching Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women for the second time in the span of a week.
In my first viewing, the emotional impact of this film snuck up and whomped me over the head. I didn’t have a huge personal connection to the book(s). I read an abridged version of Little Women as a kid. I saw the ’90s version when I was fairly young, but I had no fervent loyalty to any one character or adaptation. Mostly I wanted to see the 2019 film because Lady Bird made me really excited about Gerwig’s approach to storytelling, and because frankly, I’d watch Saoirse Ronan do just about anything for two hours, she’s that good.
After its Christmas release, the movie was also making the rounds in lots of “best of 2019” lists at the end of the year, and the feminist hot takes were pulling me in (feminist media studies is my area of scholarship in my day job as a communication studies professor). So on New Year’s Eve day, I plunked down in a darkened theater with a tankard of Diet Coke and settled in for a little cozy escapism from my own home and hearth.
Roughly two-and-a-half hours later, I found myself sobbing in my minivan all the way home.
Like I said, unexpected emotional whompin’!
What I’ve found as I’ve grown older is that movies now hit me in a variety of layers of “feels”. Watching Little Women, I remembered my young womanhood and coming of age. I thought of my own immediate family and siblings. I remembered that phase in the late teens where I felt so desperate to know what would become of my career, my romantic life, and my education. I remembered that constant, contradictory push and pull of wanting to fit in and wanting to distinguish myself.
But watching this film now as a mother of four? Sure, I may be raising Little Men (or not-so-little-men, as my 14-year-old is shooting toward a six-foot stature as if he’ll get a cash prize when he arrives), but experiencing the film as a mother was profound. Coming at this film from the heart of my experience parenting young people added in this entirely new emotional layer on TOP of the many coming-of-age feels it sparked.
MARMEE! Oh, Marmee. Of course given that the March matriarch was played by the truly captivating Laura Dern, I was destined to be obsessed with her. (Truly the casting was amazing across the board.) It was a bit jarring, at first, to see this saintly mother played by Dern, given that I’d just recently watched her as the smart and minxy divorce lawyer in Netflix’s Marriage Story (coincidentally written and directed by Gerwig’s partner.) Dern as Marmee, representing joy and love and contentment and sacrifice and… anger!? Being the core of that home, that family, that neighborhood, and also its also most invisible member? Whew. So much to chew on there.
Here’s an inexhaustive list of the reasons the film absorbed me completely, and why I delighted in every single minute of it:
- The knitwear. My word, I haven’t seen this much knitwear porn since the first season of Outlander. And just the costuming overall. **Chef’s kiss** to costume designer Jacqueline Durran, who created a sartorial feast that reflected the cozy, layered, colorful world of the March women. Coming home I wanted to burn all my practical nylon-shelled coats and, Maria von Trapp style, transform all of my curtains into capes.
- Jo’s green, Sgt. Pepper-esque writing jacket. Yes, it’s SO GOOD as to deserve its own bullet point aside from the rest of the costuming. On the way home from the theater the second time, I found myself going through a thought experiment: how much would I be willing to pay for a replica? The answer alarmed me a bit. I may teach myself how to sew and embroider SIMPLY so I can recreate this jacket for myself.
- The warmth of the March home. Like Laurie gazing out the window of his grandfather’s cold mansion, I found myself absolutely drawn into the homey, warm aesthetic of the March residence — the decor (especially at Christmas), the small table full of platters of food and surrounded with good company. The fact that, much like in my house, despite the amount of space they seemed to have, they all mostly ended up in one room together, often piled on top of one another.
- The reminder of the power of community and neighborly care/charity. Now granted, this might have ended poorly for one particular Little Woman (is it a spoiler to say who if the book came out 151 years ago? Just in case, I’ll keep my lips sealed.) But I don’t know, I’m in a fairly new-to-me neighborhood. I’d like to know my neighbors better. Perhaps a basket of baked goods may be in order….
- The reminder that much like a more recent media example, Sex And The City, the March girls ultimately represent slightly exaggerated representations of different aspects of womanhood and femininity. It’s a tale as old as time, that tug between ambition, desire, respectability, a want for family and security. Not to mention the consideration of what you stand to lose when siblings and friends begin to marry and begin their own families, or the ways that romantic relationships can intentionally or accidentally eclipse those relationships that came before. SO much to think about.
- And then, of course, OF COURSE, Jo’s passion for writing. Oooof. I think that to me, this is where a huge part of that emotional whompin’ came from. In truth, if I took an online quiz about “Which March sister are you?” either now, or back in my own coming-of-age, I probably would have been a Meg. For me, my dreams always revolved around marriage and motherhood. But I also knew I didn’t have to choose. I have very strong streaks of Jo in me, a deeply embedded desire to write, to create, to achieve, and to attempt new and scary things. My career is deeply important to me. If I had taken such a personality quiz back in the 1860s when the book came out, and when women often had to choose in much more dramatic ways, I may very well have been a Jo. To watch her take the joy and pain of her own life and, in a bit of a collapsing with her story and the story of Louisa May Alcott’s real life, turn it into something for the masses, was just so moving to me.
This is getting too long. Here’s the larger takeaway. As I said, the movie had such an effect on me that I watched it a second time, in part because I’ve decided to start The Little Woman Project, a bit of a winter-time novelty to distract me from the mid-winter blahs here in New England. A way to think and write and create around that Little Women world. In a series of very low-pressure, low-stress writing and craft projects over the next few months that I’ll share here, I’ll explore the various facets of the film that resonated with me, including (but not limited to) fashion, home decor, cooking and homemaking, family, dream chasing, writing, and deepening connections in our communities. And of course, romance.
I’ve already been to the thrift store. My closet is BURSTING with soft and colorful knitwear. Bring on the rest! 🙂
PS: Like a colorful shawl on top of a cozy knit sweater, this work will only accent my regularly scheduled Jess Vonn writing, I pinky promise. I’m excited to introduce you to my next contemporary romance series, The Land Mermaids, soon, and hope to get all four books out in 2020. Much like I love the March sisters, you’re going to LOVE these women I’m writing (and lust after their handsome men.)
Jess Vonn is the author of the “Love by The Seasons” contemporary romance series, available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and join her reader group!