From the Studio
Writer-director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) has crafted a Little Women that draws on both the classic novel and the writings of Louisa May Alcott, and unfolds as the author’s alter ego, Jo March, reflects back and forth on her fictional life. In Gerwig’s take, the beloved story of the March sisters – four young women each determined to live life on her own terms – is both timelss and timely.
First and Lasting Impressions
We all have our favorite Little Women movie. Mine is and (I thought) always would be the 1994 edition starring Winona Ryder and Christian Bale (insert heart emoji here). HOWEVER – Greta Gerwig’s offering to the cache of theatrical adaptations might just push the others out of the way.
With source material as timeless as Louisa May Alcott’s novel, director Greta Gerwig only enhances Alcott’s family tribute. In this latest installment for the Instagram generation, Gerwig delivers not just a trendy cast with countless quotable moments, she rightfully emphasizes the plight of the poor but educated 1800s woman whose future depended upon seeking and accepting an appropriate “economic proposal.” Unexpectedly, a few characters broke the fourth wall when reading their letters aloud. This device instantly places you in the action and makes an uncomfortable emotional impact – which only pulls you deeper into the narrative.
The ensemble cast is a perfect blend of Hollywood icons such as Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, and young stars Saorise Ronan and Emily Watson, who interact with believable chemistry. They worked to create a world of which you wish to be a part.
Rising heartthrob Timotheé Chalamet stars as Theodore Lawrence. His slight gawkiness highlights the awkwardness of Laurie’s character. Laurie, after all, is a lonely teen who is longing for friendship and desperate for the warmth of a large family dynamic.
Eliza Scanlen, who plays Beth, at times comes across as one-dimensional as she fades into the background of most scenes. However, she finds her shining moments and brings her character to life. This is essentially Beth – sweet shyness, tender heart, and stalwart supporter of her family.
The whiskey-voiced Florence Pugh finally gives Amy March her due. Through Pugh, we see Amy grow from spoiled brat to family heroine. The weight of marrying a rich husband and securing the financial future of her family is taxed upon her shoulders and informs the development of both the character and the portrayal. Amy addresses her plight in a moving speech to Laurie that engages the viewer as her direct audience.
Though many fans sought to have Emma Watson as Jo, she is perfectly suited to the role of eldest sister Meg. Steadfast and sensible but still emotional and sometimes indulgent, Watson’s Meg is refined and careful to keep her sisters’ social propriety intact.
Saorise Ronan’s Josephine March maintains the focal point of her screen time without demanding your attention. She has a natural spunk and charisma which draws you into her story with an approachable ease that honestly makes you want to become her best friend. Her gentle tenacity is a perfect foil for the haughty Aunt March. Portrayed by Meryl Streep, this Aunt March shows a taste of sarcastic sassiness in a much more likeable way than I’ve seen done before. In the same vein, Chris Cooper successfully gives old Mr. Lawrence layers of kindness as a sympathetic grief-stricken kindly neighbor.
Gerwig employs the use of time hopping between phases of characters’ lives, which became a bit confusing. The actors’ faces and costumes do not “age” greatly between eras, so pay attention to hairstyles – especially Jo’s. I found that to be the quickest way to identify the time in which the story was unfolding.
A particular highlight of the film is the musical score. Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat does more than tie scenes together for seamless continuity. Rather, he floats viewers through the story, careful not to demand a prescribed reaction but asking you to follow the emotion as it guides.
Know Before You Go
Surely award nominations will abound for directing, writing, costuming, acting – too many categories to name. This isn’t just a great novel and film, it is a voice for all generations, for all women, for all dreamers of all ages. Dads should take their daughters, ladies take your besties, moms take your sons, and if you have no one to go with – take yourself!