This past year, three movies stand out as hallmarks of great moments on the screen. These wonderful movies will make the transition from the screen into my personal collection: Little Women, Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, and The Farewell.
Little Women, one of the most celebrated classics and most read novels in history, once again makes it to the silver screen. I tend to mostly mourn the realism the older versions of movies hold with respect to the actual text from which the screen adaptations develop. In this movie, I embrace and praise the strides the producer made with regard to a woman's worth through the characters without sacrificing the long-held theme of the endearing role a mother and wife play with its importance held in much revere in Meg, right alongside that of the career woman within Jo's role. I remember being a young woman desiring a career in the 1980s and how that was becoming to be well-accepted for women my age. And though my mother held many of the traditional views of a woman's role, she also worked outside the home not just as a necessity, with 5 mouths to feed, but because she was outgoing and enjoyed her role working amongst her neighbors and friends. Though I absolutely love the Little Women movie version from 1994, I found all the characters improved upon in the latest, 2019, version. For example, Meg stands up for her dream of a more traditional life as a woman for the era the movie represents when Jo, the tomboy who longs for and pursues a career without any plans to marry, belittles the more matronly role as though it is something to be thought of only as a last resort. It is a beautiful moment in the movie as Meg (brilliantly acted by Emma Watson) lovingly explains to her sister Jo how, though their dreams differ greatly, they are equally important to the beholder. Amy's character takes on a refreshing depth as she is a parallelism between Jo and Meg, longing for her dream as an artist to bloom, while at the same time embracing the realization of marriage as a necessary part of a woman's life within the era they are born into, knowing she must realistically think of her future and the poor chance she would have as a female to succeed as an artist. Amy's character is so much more interesting, not silly but filled with a depth of character that causes the viewer to be on her side and cheer her on in her quests. Professor Bhaer (played by Louis Garrel) is much younger in this movie, not the patriarchal character of past movies, which I personally found rather creepy. This made the choice for Jo to marry at all much more palatable for the viewer. Beth is a younger character, sweet and just as endearing as the 1994 movie character, but probably my least favorite, though still likable. (It is hard to match the scene from the 1994 movie when Mr. Laurence gifts Beth the piano. That scene still makes me tear up). As much as I loved the 1994 movie, viewing this one with my own daughter, we both agreed this is our favorite of all the movies representing this classic story.
In Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood, Tom Hanks once again transforms himself into the character he plays and in doing so, transports us to a place our hearts long to go, and the reward is life-changing. Though I never really viewed Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood until after the movie, I felt compelled to view the documentary about his life afterward mostly due to the excellent performance by Hanks. One cannot speak of how wonderful Tom Hanks' acting always is without referring to his Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globe awards this past Sunday night. Big being the first-ever movie I saw him in, every movie I have watched with him as the focused character, I have chosen to view because of the magnificent performance he always dishes out. If I had to pick a favorite, I honestly could not, but a few of my favorite performances are the movie I have entitled this paragraph about, Philadelphia (that consequently also stars a personal favorite, Denzel Washington), Apollo 13, Saving Mr. Banks and Saving Private Ryan (and believe me, I could list many more – seriously, have you ever looked up how many movies he has made?). He has that unparalleled gift of becoming the actor so that you no longer see Hanks but the person he transforms himself into. I cannot think of a person over the years who has deserved this award more. Hats off to Hollywood for getting it right this time.
The Farewell is a movie about family and what it means when you grow up in the East, but its message transcends all cultures. Though Billi's family believes in keeping her grandmother's test results regarding her illness and how serious it is from her, Billi questions this practice. As her family notes, "in the East, a person's life is part of a whole, and the family carries emotional burdens for her." The theme of the movie is Billi's struggle with this concept, grappling with the urge to share the truth with her grandmother, dealing with emotions regarding her family's choosing to leave China and move to America away from their large extended family. She shares with her mother that because she was never told what was actually going on, she was always scared of what might happen. Though much of the movie centers around the themes within this Chinese family's traditions, some of them rang true personally. I remember feeling the same way within my own family, as my parents, too, felt they should shelter us. Because of the feelings this choice caused to surface later when the bad news came out anyway, my husband and I chose to always be upfront and truthful with our daughter, even when the news was bad, and she has expressed often how much she appreciates it. In this way, we dealt with the struggles together, and she learned to pray, as we did so together, and draw from each other's strength. The actress who plays Billi does a terrific job showing her love for her grandmother, and the traditions within the Chinese culture of a strong family unit, and how the needs of them as a whole rather than an individual are well demonstrated. There are sad moments, comedic moments, and much demonstration of what family means.
These three movies are representative of what joy can be experienced when a story is not only good, but told well. The actors, the story themes, and the stories themselves are all examples of how a great movie can become a holiday tradition that brings a meaningful experience! If you did not have the opportunity to take in any of these great movies, I hope you will take the time to do so with your family, and experience the happiness together my family and I did during the viewing of these great stories. Happy New Year!