Reading the Script of Little Women (2019)

Hello! I hope you all are doing well!

I recently came across a scene breakdown of Little Women (2019) on YouTube by Vanity Fair (click here for the video) and I was really intrigued by how much thought went into such a few minutes of the movie.

So I did some googling and much to my delight, found the screenplay that Greta Gerwig wrote for Little Women (click here for the link). And so, I read through the script and watched any clips of the movie I could find on YouTube after reading sections of the script, and both were just so inspiring.

Something that struck me immediately was the writing in the screenplay’s action, and how artistic it was. For example, take this excerpt:

I love the way Gerwig established this parallel between NYC, in the middle of becoming, and Jo, also becoming. It reflects just how much thought is put into every scene, every image in this movie–and in all movies–and I feel like especially without the screenplay, this sort of parallelism is something that can get easily overlooked. Something I also admired was the line that “[Jo] has pulled up her skirts and is running full steam. Not lady-running, flat-out RUNNING. For the joy of it.” I think when writing scripts–both for plays and films–you’re supposed to be objective, since in the end, however symbolic or literal your images are meant to be, it’s about what the viewer sees, about what’s tangible. As a result, I usually tend to write really objectively, only stating what the characters are doing, and with this mindset, I tend to forget that the whole point of writing is ultimately to pinpoint and portray really specific, really subjective emotions and ideas, rather than to just present plotlines. Gerwig’s writing, both in these lines and throughout the screenplay, made me remember the necessity of being extremely intentional in the way I choose to describe images in my writing and realize that oftentimes, I need to use artistic language to portray ambiguous ideas “objectively,” the way I want them to be portrayed. I mean, if Gerwig had just written “Jo pulls up her skirts and runs,” or even, “Jo pulls up her skirts and runs quickly,” the emotions and energy of Jo would be portrayed rather vaguely, and no amount of adverbs and verbs would be as effective as describing that she was “not lady-running, flat-out RUNNING. For the joy of it.” Also, I think this sort of freedom makes script writing more enjoyable since you know that though you do have to make sure to write objective actions, you can still describe the mood and intentions behind these actions with more figurative language.

As I read the screenplay and paused to watch clips of the scene I’d just read, I realized that the dialogue I’d heard in my head often didn’t match what I heard on-screen. The arts are so interesting in this way–no matter what the creator’s intentions are, it’s ultimately up to those receiving it to interpret it the way they want to, need to, or happen to, which makes the piece a personal experience for them. The significant role of interpretation also reminded me that things like films or plays are never based solely on the vision of one person, but that instead, they’re the combination of all of the artists at work and their individual perceptions of the project.

I also really liked how Gerwig included a lot of overlaps in dialogue–it was confusing to read on paper, but watching it, it made the scene so much more authentic and human. 

But okay, the ending. Basically, in the original Little Women book by Louisa May Alcott, Jo ends up married and with children because though Alcott didn’t want to end it this way, she was convinced that she had to in order to get her book published. SO, Greta Gerwig decided to reference this in the movie with an ending that goes:

  1. Jo runs to the station in search for Bhaer, after realizing she loved him
  2. It changes to the present, where the publisher is imploring Jo to add a marriage-children ending, to which Jo responds “Fine.”
  3. It goes back to the scene in the station, where Jo and Bhaer find each other romantically and kiss.

I did like how meta these scenes were and the way it paid tribute to the history behind the book. However, why couldn’t scene #3 have happened before scene #2? I mean, up until scene #2 when the publisher insisted on a more romantic ending, Jo and Bhaer liked each other. Jo chasing after Bhaer happened before the publisher insisted on writing a more romantic, marriage-based ending. So how come scene #3, which wasn’t even about marriage and was instead merely a continuation of scene #1, came after the publisher insisted on a marriage-children ending? Does this mean scene #1 was fake as well? Does this mean the entire relationship between Jo and Bhaer was all just for the benefit of the publisher? I’d like to think not, but the placement of scene #3 after scene #2 makes it seem so.

Don’t get me wrong–I do really like the idea of placing a scene of Jo getting married and having children after the publisher scene to show that the inclusion of marriage was for the sake of the publisher. But because scene #3 was never about marriage or children, and instead only about Jo and Bhaer’s relationship, I wish it would’ve been placed before the publisher scene to show that while any marriage or children scenes written in were because the publisher insisted on it, their love for each other was still genuine. Because even if they never got married, didn’t they still have a relationship?

Or maybe their romantic relationship never was genuine? Frankly, I thought that throughout the movie, Jo was gradually warming up to the idea of marriage, especially with Bhaer. So when she told the publisher that Jo didn’t marry anyone because “she says the whole book that she doesn’t want to marry,” I was a bit confused, but assumed that it meant while she did love Bhaer, she didn’t want to commit to a marriage. But maybe the placement of scene #3 after the publisher scene was intentional to suggest that from the start, the whole warming-up-to-the-idea-of-marriage was actually fake? That not just their marriage but their relationship to begin with was forced? Honestly, I don’t know.

Overall, I liked how this version of Little Women wasn’t just a redo of the previous Little Women’s. I found the parallel timelines a bit confusing at times, but I did like how unique it was and the risk of it. Reading the script and watching clips of the movie definitely made me appreciate filmmaking a lot more, and hopefully one day, I’ll be able to watch the full movie!

4 thoughts on “Reading the Script of Little Women (2019)

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