By any objective measure, Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women has been a huge success. The film recently passed $100 million at the domestic box office. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is 95. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
However, the film, ever since its release on Christmas, has been seemingly endlessly mired in controversy, in a way that’s not in any way deserved.
Little Women‘s ‘Man Problem”
In the days around the film’s release, some commentators began asserting that the film had a “man problem“- that is, that men saw the film as for women, and therefore were refusing to see it. This was asserted, by former New York Times critic Janet Maslin and others, based on their own experience with spouses and/or friends.
However, it was never particularly clear that such a phenomenon actually existed beyond anecdote. Sure, the film was likely marketed more towards women, and it’s likely that more women grew up as fans of the novel or previous film adaptations than men.
…Film Twitter discussion began to assert that… some men were being too performative about their love of Little Women
But if a movie earned $100 million at the box office, there’s a fairly good chance that plenty of men saw it. And missing from this discussion was… the voices of men actually articulating that they refused to. The male-dominated profession of film critics, after all, were nearly unanimous in their praise of the film.
Meanwhile, another Film Twitter discussion began to assert that… some men were being too performative about their love of Little Women. There was also whatever the hell this argument was, from Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic.
“Did Little Women direct itself?”
The other huge controversy about Little Women came when Gerwig was not nominated for Best Director for the film, despite the film getting a Best Picture nod. While Gerwig herself was (deservedly) nominated for directing in 2017 for Lady Bird, this marked the second year in a row that the Best Director category was all-male.
This led many fans of the film to ask the question of whether the film “directed itself.”
But that’s not entirely fair either. Now that there are more than five Best Picture nominees – and nine this year – there are going to be movies every year that are nominated for Picture and not Director, and this year it was Little Women (and Ford v. Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit, and Marriage Story, which was directed by Gerwig’s partner, Noah Baumbach). None of those movies directed themselves, either.
Nothing to be Ashamed Of
Little Women is a very, very good film – well-acted, written and directed, and with just enough personal touches to make such a multi-generational remake worth its while.
I had it ranked as the 20th-best film of 2019, out of the more than 350 that I saw. It got six Oscar nominations, which is about the right amount, and it stands a decent chance of being remembered and re-watched years from now, in a way that many of its competition may not be.
And yes, plenty of men saw it. And no, it did not direct itself.