hen I first saw trailers for Uncut Gems and Little Women last year, I initially wrote them off. "They’re probably well-made, but those movies just aren’t for me," I thought.
Both films center around communities I know little about: What do I care about New York City diamond dealers or sports gamblers? I have no interest in the NBA and I haven’t read a word of Louisa May Alcott’s novel. I saw little in these movies — the characters, the settings, the plot points — that appealed to me: a dude, a gentile, a baseball fan.
This was, of course, stupid. Avoiding art merely because it tells a story about characters to whom you don’t relate makes for a boring and bland entertainment diet, indeed.
As glowing reviews poured in for both films, I felt lured. Then something happened that sealed the deal: While walking down a nearly deserted sidewalk late one night in New York City, I almost bumped into a family that had stopped abruptly to look at a store window display. “Sorry, buddy!” the dad said to me, with a voice that was undeniably familiar yet out of place here, on the street, away from the TV: It was Adam Sandler. Well, now I just had to see his crazy fever-dream movie. I know it’s silly, but this accidental moment of direct-to-consumer marketing worked on me.
The story of how I came to see Little Women is less interesting, but perhaps more relatable: My wife took me.
Despite my concerns that I wasn’t the target audience, Uncut Gems and Little Women reminded me more than any other movies last year why I love film in the first place. They transport us to places we otherwise aren’t allowed to go. And when they’re great, we don’t want to leave.
Most movies provide escapism to some extent, but Uncut Gems and Little Women were so well-crafted that I kept wanting to go back and learn more. I’m not often invited to NBA after-parties, private family Passover seders, or Christmas mornings in 19th-century New England. Both films successfully gave me a backstage pass to these unreachable realms.
Uncut Gems in particular thrust me headlong into a world I’ve never encountered and held me there like a hostage with Stockholm Syndrome. For two hours and 15 minutes, I was an eavesdropping Protestant, joyfully trapped behind Howard Ratner’s bullet-proof-glass vestibule, while I peered into the private lives of New York’s Jewish diamond hustlers. Claustrophobia be damned! I listened in on hushed conversations in the back rooms of the cramped jewelers on Manhattan’s 47th street, observed a family’s private Passover meal, and heard how basketball players talk off the court. Hell, I even got to hang with The Weeknd while he ingested some premium blow in a bathroom with Julia Fox. Now, tell me: Under what other circumstances beyond film would I ever get to participate in any of this fun? (I assure you, there are none.)
I’ve always struggled to be a fly on the wall. But these films also took me into places I could never go without altering them. No other medium can accomplish this so effectively.
In Little Women, Greta Gerwig and her stellar cast graciously pulled back the curtain to reveal secrets about the inner lives of women. The film helps unravel part of the Great Enigma for clueless men (like me) to better understand how women relate to each other when we aren’t in the room. The film is full of quiet moments full of heartbreak, betrayal, and familial tenderness that men typically interrupt.
Men have only to gain from witnessing moments like these. Guys, if there are women in your life with a worn, dog-eared copy of Little Women on the shelf who has seen every film adaptation, aren’t you the least bit curious about why they find the story so beloved? If a piece of art is so important to her, you could do worse than spend two hours trying to understand why. It just might work out well for you.
Finally, exposure to other peoples’ lives — their pain, hopes, obstacles — builds empathy, and we could all use more of it. The subjectivity of film helps us see the world through the troubled lens of a Howard Ratner as his life swings precariously from deal to deal, literally at the mercy of that insane parlay bet. Or consider the trade-off that Jo March must accept to advance her writing career in a time when women just didn’t do that sort of thing. It’s easy to forget the stresses bearing down on those different from us, but film gives us a chance not to.
The inability to “identify” with a film is no reason to avoid a great movie. It might be all the more reason to see it. And in these cases, I’m glad I did.
Chris Moody is a VICE News correspondent and Robert Novak Journalism Fellow with the Fund for American Studies.