Greta Gerwig was under the weather at the end of the year, just two weeks ago. Her beautiful face had a feverish glow — but she still managed to show up for a screening of her new film “Little Women” and participate in Q&A afterwards at the NYIT Theater on the Upper West Side. Gerwig wrote and directed her version of Louisa May Alcott’s literary saga of the beloved March sisters in a retelling that is true to its 19th-century origins and uniquely modern to our times.
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Timothee Chalamet, Emma Watson and Laura Dern, “Little Women” has received rave reviews from critics and is connecting with audience in a big way. At the time of the Q&A, the movie was new and no one knew how it would do at the box office. This weekend, it crosses the $80 mil mark, an extraordinary achievement.
After the screening, Gerwig, despite being sick — she said she was coming down with a fever and beads of sweat could be seen on her lip — engaged in a lively discussion with the enthusiastic audience.
She said of the importance of the book, “I always felt that you could draw somewhat of a straight line between Louisa May Alcott doing what she did and writing the book she wrote, writing about the lives of girls and women. And then, what I’ve been able to do. So for me, that last moment (in the film) where Saoirse as Louisa/Jo is holding her book and looks up. To me that’s her looking, she sees the future.
“And, I think when I look at the 20th century and the number of women who said that that book meant something to them and it meant something to them and it made them write and it made them do, whether it was Simone de Beauvoir or Elena Ferrante or Patty Smith or J K Rowling,”
Gerwig mentioned the community of inspiration around the book, that she came back to the book multiple times as an adult at different life stages.
“I actually read it again and again when I was a kid and then I guess the last time I read it was 14 or something and then I read it when I was 30 and I felt like I’d never read it before,” she told the audience, adding, “ I felt like I couldn’t believe how modern and pressing and urgent the message of the book was. And there seemed to be all these themes running underneath it that were right there, about authorship and ownership and women and art and ambition and money and I thought, ‘This is all this stuff I’m interested in.’”
In discussing the challenges of how far to contemporize elements in the film, Gerwig was asked about where she wanted to insert a little Greta Gerwigness to it or not.
“Actually I would say something like 90% of the dialogue is either directly word for word from the book or from a letter or a journal that Louisa May Alcott had written or another piece of text that she’d written. If there’s a Greta Gerwigness in it, I would say it’s been the speed of delivery more than anything else. I actually think you’d be surprised. Most of the lines are, actually even some lines that you don’t think are in the book and which is the reason I wanted to make the movie is, like Marmee’s line, ‘I’m angry almost every single day of my life.’ That’s from the book. When I reread it, I underlined it and I wrote beside it. ‘Marmee’s been angry for a hundred and fifty years?’ But I think it was more about pulling things out of the book that I felt hadn’t really been explored fully. And then also speeding it all up, because to me part of the pleasure was taking these lines that had been embroidered on pillows and having them raced through.”
Photo courtesy of Brad Balfour