Little Women Movie Review
Director: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell, Rafael Silva, Dash Barber, Hadley Robinson, Abby Quinn, Maryann Plunkett, Edward Fletcher, Sasha Frolova
Oscar Wins: Best Costume Design
Other Nominations: Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Florence Pugh), Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture
With not one, not two, but SIX movie adaptations since the novel’s release, Little Women continues to delight audiences year after year. This timeless Civil War classic of four close-knit sisters has been adapted into two silent films (one in 1917 and another in 1918), an Oscar-nominated 1933 film starring Katharine Hepburn, a 1949 film starring June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor, and yet another Oscar-nominated 1994 film starring Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes and Christian Bale. In this 2019 interpretation, writer and director Greta Gerwig gives us a fresh and lovely reimagining of Little Women that is just as delightful, if not more so, than its predecessors.
(((Fair warning, there may be spoilers ahead if you’re unfamiliar with the story)))
Weaving both past and present together, this telling of Little Women does not aim to replace the other versions that have come before it, rather it finds its own voice while remaining faithful to the source material. Our present-day storyline is still set in the Civil War era, and the March sisters remain true to their literary counterparts, with Jo (Saoirse Ronan) the dedicated writer, Meg (Emma Watson) the domestic goddess, Beth (Eliza Scanlen) the gifted musician, and Amy (Florence Pugh) the talented artist. However, this story begins much later in the timeline, with Amy, Aunt March and Laurie already in Europe, Beth home sick, Meg married to John Brooke and Jo in New York, trying to start her life as a writer.
From this present-day storyline, shot in cool blue and grey tones, we flash back to the storyline we all know and love of the sisters living at home, shot in warm, golden tones. These flashbacks are mainly in Jo’s memory, inspired by her reacquaintance with cherished childhood mementos – Beth’s piano, a mailbox in the woods, a beloved dress. These transitions happen so quickly and fluidly that it’s sometimes hard to tell where we are in time, even with the change in color palette.
As for the rest of our players, Timothee Chalamet brings boy-next-door Laurie to life in a role he was pretty much born to play, and Laura Dern proves, once again, she’s freaking beautiful and amazing as the March matriarch, Marmee. However, one of my favorite roles in this film has to go to Meryl Streep, who gave such a funny and true interpretation of Aunt March that I found myself wishing she got way more screen time than she did.
The other thing I loved about Gerwig’s Little Women was that her characters, while true to the novel, also had ambition, good intention and hopes for the future that were not limited to being wives and mothers. In this way, Little Women is quite unlike its sister-films and really stands out with a message of female empowerment. This is probably most evident in a speech given by Amy where she tells Laurie how powerless women of that period really were, not only could they not vote or work, but through marriage, they would lose ownership of their money, property and children. This not only helps educate Laurie, but acts as a way for the audience to learn why these characters were so against marriage in the first place (this speech was actually not part of the original script, but was suggested by none other than Meryl herself).
This is further highlighted in the chemistry between Jo and Laurie. In what appears to be a gender reversal, Jo is given new life in this adaptation. She’s determined, quick to anger and strong in her beliefs. Laurie is loose and mellow, dancing around Jo as he flirts and teases her with playful aloofness that is often reserved for the ladies of the Austen novels. As a final period on the end of the feminist sentence, Laurie also wears a ring given to him by Jo, which he refuses to take off, even as Jo turns down his eventual proposal.
Halfway through her novel, Alcott pauses to celebrate a burst of joy, saying, “Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in the delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort it is.” In Gerwig’s Little Women, we find a break from the mundane, a light and warm and refreshing retelling of a story so many of us hold near and dear to our hearts…and what a comfort that is.