Film

We Need To Discuss Timothée Chalamet’s Walk In ‘Little Women’

Laurie walks through 'Little Women' as if he has an invisible watermelon between his thighs, but mustn't let anyone know about the existence of the watermelon.

Timothée Chalamet in Little Women

Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women is an absolute joy: even in its sadder moments, it radiates with the warmth that attracts Laurie to the March family in the first place. For the film’s two hours, it feels like we’ve been adopted into the family too.

Much has been written about Gerwig’s version of the March family, mostly revolving around two performances. There’s Saoirse Ronan’s Jo, who is so passionate, headstrong and self-determined that admiration is inevitable, even in her vulnerable moments. Gerwig’s twists to Jo’s narrative light a fire under her, giving a new life to a centuries-old character.

Then there’s Florence Pugh as Amy, Jo’s petulant little sister and a difficult, controversial character. Lovers of Louisa May Alcott’s 1871 novel have argued over her virtues (or lack of) since release, but Pugh’s portrayal underpins how her worst traits as a child (cruelty, vanity) are the flip-side of her best as an adult (a refusal to be curtailed by social niceties, a pragmatism that takes feeling into account).

Pugh’s absolutely the breakout star of the film: her ability to swing between the many modes of Amy and make the audience laugh, even at her most monstrous, is truly masterful. Still, there’s one vital part of Little Women that needs more attention: Timothée Chalamet’s Laurie, the rich orphan who lives next door to the Marches.

Specifically, his gait — as he walks, Laurie slouches backwards and pushes his legs apart, as if imitating a leisurely stroll of an older, still spritely man enjoying the late moments of his life. Or, if we’re being a little less kind, someone who has an invisible watermelon between their thighs, but mustn’t let anyone know about the existence of the watermelon.

And yet, somehow, it works. Chalamet totally nails Laurie, and his chemistry with both Saorise and Pugh allows the film to smoothen out Little Woman‘s most controversial plot point: spoiler here, but it makes definitive sense in Gerwig’s version why Laurie marries Amy, rather than Jo. And that bizarre walk is key.

Laurie, The Original Softboi

Laurie arrives into the Marches lives when he meets Jo at a party, but in Gerwig’s film, we meet him first in a flash-forward. This Little Women starts in 1868, years into the story, with the sisters all separated: Jo is writing in New York, Meg is married, Beth is sick, and Amy’s in Paris, where she runs into Laurie in a park, screaming when she spots him.

During the chance encounter, she apologises that Jo turned down his marriage proposal. Before we’ve even seen Laurie and Jo allows us to enjoy their friendship without too much worry over romantic goals — a shift from the book and previous adaptations.

When the two do meet a few scenes later and six years before, the playfulness is far more childish than flirtatious. They’re both hiding at a party and soon take to dancing outside, breaking into something far less stifled and far more modern than 19th century courtship moves.

We see their friendship evolve with ease, pushed by Laurie’s eagerness, as an orphan, to join in with the Marches at every and any opportunity. It’s almost as if, at first, he was in love with the family more than any one person.

True, there’s much more of a kinship at first between Jo and Laurie than any other sister: in many scenes the two lean on each other and entangle their bodies in a casual display of affection that is becoming of 2020, not the 1860s.

Neither is the tone of Little Women, and that’s in large part due to the actor’s physicality. As discussed by Dana Stevens and Rachel Syme on the Slate Spoiler Special podcast, the characters hold themselves in a contemporary way, rather than the stiffness seen in most period pieces.

Even so, Jo and Laurie’s physical relationship is completely different from the other male-female relationships in the film, landing much more childish than than the rigid courtships Amy and Meg go through at balls.

From the moment Jo and Laurie meet, it’s evident he isn’t particularly comfortable with the high-society rigour he lives in.

He teases Meg for pretending to be ‘Daisy’ and acting differently at the debutante ball, and years later, gets drunk at a Paris event and lounges around in ladies’ laps, seemingly for no other reason than to show off. It’s a discomfort Jo shares, her stubborn tomboyishness always refusing to play the polite role — inspiring readers for centuries since.

In an excellent article, BuzzFeed writer Shannon Keating discusses how Gerwig’s Little Women allows for the possibility of both Jo and Laurie’s queerness — not by any means assigning it, but leaving open the reading. There’s something in their shared “sense of difference”, she writes: a discomfort that neither character (nor their author) had the ability to describe.

“I’ve always read him as a queer figure: androgynous, impish, game to play dress-up with a bunch of sisters,” she writes of Laurie. “He’s an offbeat, lonely, orphaned boy awash in a big, empty house who’s always longed above all for a family. In Jo, he sees adventure, daring, transgression. They’re two little queer kids attempting to spin their fantasies into reality.”

It’s a reading that Chalamet allows for, too: the actor’s own status as a symbol of twinkish, softboi masculinity stands in sharp contrast from the other romantic leads in the film.

Then there’s his wardrobe in the film. Costume designer Jaqueline Durran let Chalamet self-style, once he’d read about 19th century flaneurs and dandys, wealthy young men who took pleasure in their appearance. The result is far more editorial and effette than the male lead we’re used to in period pieces — everything falls off his body as if on a runway, carefully tucked or untucked or cuffed, always slouching, almost as if in a pose.

And then, finally, the walk.

It seems like one of Laurie’s many rebellions against the masculinity he’s supposed to perform; a luggish, ridiculous gait that parodies the gentlemen around him. He and Jo are united by their stubborn spirit and make wonderful allies, but its Amy who is his match — as Jo says, their outlets (writing, partying) are too opposed to work.

Different pace, but similar walks.

Little Women is in cinemas now.


Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless in Sydney on FBi Radio. He is on Twitter.