Monday, May 22, 2017

An Old Lady Review of Anne with an E


On the weekend that the Netflix "Anne with an E" came out I received no fewer than 8 texts from people asking if I had watched it. My love for Anne Shirley is deep and well known. And I'm happy about that. 

Confess, when you heard that they were making another adaptation you were a little apprehensive, right? I certainly was. Because the books are so dear to me, and the 1980s adaptations are so good, I knew that I would be nostalgic about it and would probably compare too much. But as comparison is the thief of joy I went into it trying my best to be open minded and embrace another retelling.

But I soon found that in order to do that I had to completely separate the Anne that I know from what I was watching. And then I could handle it. Because, you guys, it's different. Like an elephant and a flat head screw driver are different. And even after separating it I thought it was just an okay show. It is very heavy-handed. It never missed an opportunity to hit you over the head with a visual metaphor. For example, in the episode when Anne gets her period (yep, we get to see Anne freak out as she washes her bloody drawers. It's accurate.) Marilla and Rachel Lynde are discussing it with their hands deep in red berries. At Gilbert's dad's funeral (yep, Gilbert is an orphan too. Because you can't expect us to believe that they would fall in love unless they're both sad.) it starts to snow and Gil catches a snowflake and it melts in his palm and slides down just like a tear. This is not a subtle show. There were definitely moments of sweetness. Matthew can't help but be a dear and both he and Marilla have back stories alluded to that were compelling. But as a show I could take it or leave it.

But here's what I can't take. You know how Anne is awesome? How she's always able to turn things around with her charm and her smarts and positive attitude? How she stands up for herself but does so in a way that is natural and pure and then everyone except for Josie Pye is all, "Oh Anne, you're right"? How she's sometimes too passionate and a little weird but still lovable? How she loves nature and beauty and looks for it everywhere and shares it with everyone? How she makes mistakes and laments for a bit and then moves on? How she's not perfect but tries. How she's generous and kind to everyone and when she isn't she recognizes it and tries to change? How she's just generally good and happy despite some really tough trials? That's not this Anne. This Anne is unhinged. This Anne is all about the fight. She will fight and demand and lie and belittle. Sure she quotes poetry, but she does so like her life depends on it. She has to fight to make friends, she has to fight to stay at Green Gables, she has to fight against the stigma of being an orphan. They're all against her and it is nothing but fight. And it's exhausting and entirely joyless.

This is an adaptation very much influenced by the times we live in. And boy does it want you to know that it is current and modern and aware of our problems. Every adaptation is influenced by the times. This is nothing new. But this seemed to pick every single current hot button topic and shove it in your face. Global warming was mentioned in the first episode. Marilla attends a feminist book club, making you think that Avonlea must be a hotbed of progressive thought if it weren't for the Patriarchy. She hyphenates her name "Anne Shirley-Cuthbert". Period-shaming: check. PTSD: check. Sexual assault: check. And Great Aunt Josephine is a lesbian. There is a lot of reading between the lines and some of it I found kind of interesting but most of it I felt was too much. I do not deny that all of these things were part of those times. They just were never much a part of Anne. I felt like it came at the great expense of the joy that has always been a part of those stories. You will not get any rambles through the woods here because everyone is so busy standing up for their principles. Also, the whole thing is set in winter lest we forget how difficult the road is for her. She is literally slogging through life. (In cute boots. I liked the costumes.)

I suppose what really gets me down is that lots of young girls are going to watch this and think that this is what Anne is all about. The Fight. It bothers me that it tries so hard to make Anne into a heroine by doing even more extraordinary things. That the character that was created a hundred years ago and has been loved and admired by every generation suddenly needs to become something more because it's not enough for these times we live in. It is not enough that she was academically gifted and socially invested, or that she went to college and had a career and was a published author. In this day she needs to be a warrior and a survivor which leaves little room for the things that have made her special all along. They've tried to turn her into a feminist icon when she always has been.

I was disappointed.

But I will give it this: in that period episode Anne shouts out, "Years?! Every month?!" It does not matter how much you changer her, Anne still speaks for all of our hearts.
Here. Because you need it.


Briley B said...

I was similarly apprehensive and equally disappointed. There was enough good in it to keep me watching, but it felt like it kept trying too hard, verging on soap opera drama with the cliffhangers.

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree more. Each episode left me feeling frustrated because the character of Anne was destroyed. I tried to appreciate this for itself, but, most of the time Anne annoyed me. The actress yelled 65% of her lines and I felt like it was just over the top. And, they made Marilla stone cold heartless in the first few episodes... so much, that, as she warmed up later, it wasn't enough for me.

Unknown said...

I don't know why that was "unknown"... it's Steph Pulley Burton

Valerie said...

You've approached this with a far more open mind than I have. To me, there are two iterations of Anne of Green Gables: the books and the mini-series--you know which one. I just pretend everything else doesn't exist.

I think your point about how the creators don't need to try so hard to make Anne a feminist heroine--because she already is one--is spot on. The fact that she exists, and endures, is such a testament to how important she is, and that's before someone DECIDED this was a feminist story. Characters like Anne, and Betsy, and (I guess even) Jo March (though I might argue this a bit for various reasons) are important because they show how readers believed in these girls who were strong and self-actualized and ambitious and bucked a few gender norms long before they heard the phrase, "Nevertheless, she persisted". To try to turn these stories inside and out and pretend like you're reinventing them is an insult to the girls who have believed in them from the start.

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