Little Women Review: Gerwig’s adaptation proves the timelessness of the iconic novel
Fresh off her highly regarded coming of age story, Lady Bird, writer/director Greta Gerwig returns with her own adaptation on the classic Louisa May Alcott novel Little Women.
Gerwig’s adaptation of the trials and tribulations of the March girls, Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen), marks the seventh time Alcott’s novel has been adapted to film. With so many adaptations already in existence, you think it would be hard to bring something new to the table or keep the material from feeling a little stale. However, Gerwig’s adaptation not only feels fresh with the great performances from the entire cast but proves how timeless the Alcott’s novel really is. The story’s themes about love, life, and struggles women go through in achieving their own desires still hit well today and are elevated through the great performances under Gerwig’s direction.
Ronan teaming up with Gerwig again is utter magic as Jo’s determination and strive for her own goals as a writer is something that’s so easy to gravitate towards. Right from the opening scene with her, you easily understand her frustrations as a female writer, being forced into a corner about what her female characters can be and not even being able to receive much for her work, and her determination to beat those odds is one of the most endearing things about her. Ronan never ceases to amaze with how genuine she is in bringing out Jo’s drive and makes it something that tugs right at your heart.
However, she’s never shown to be perfect as the film explores how her inhibitions and ambitions can’t always come together and that her way of thinking isn’t the only one that’s right. The film’s story isn’t simply just about Jo search for acceptance for her writing as the film perfectly delves into all of the “Little Women” of the March family. It’s nice to have a film actually acknowledge how women perceive both the world and them differently and strive for different lifestyles. From Meg’s desires to live happily with a home and family of her own to Amy striving to hone her painting skills for her own self-expression, there’s a lot of different perspectives that are great to see and seeing how they all support one another is really great. It’s even better to see how Gerwig depicts the men that are a part of their life as well as they are shown to be supportive and it offers a much more positive example of acceptance and support that most films don’t. Not to mention, there’s honestly so many great performances outside of Ronan that’s I barely know where to start in talking about them.
The best place to start is probably with Pugh as she continues her domination in 2019 with an excellent performance as Amy, the youngest March girl. Pugh brings both the selfish innocence that Amy has when she’s younger and the undeniable strive she has for greatness when she’s older perfectly. Even at times when she can come off as frustrating with how differs from Jo and her other sisters, but her drive and passion to be the best that she can be and be self-fulfilling over anything else is actually one of my favorite things about her and is why she’s such an easy character to connect to. Timothee Chalamet also continues to have knockout performances with his performance as Laurie, a boy the family befriends, and I loved his chemistry with both Ronan and Pugh. His quirky charm mixes perfectly with Ronan’s to make Jo and Laurie relationship one of the strongest emotional points of the film and it’s interesting to see the more “mature” side of him with Amy. Really the entire cast is just great with some other standout performances from Chris Cooper and Laura Dern – who are both honestly having great years themselves.
Gerwig’s direction and the tone she implements really gives this story a very modern and realistic feel that’s pretty remarkable considering it takes place in a post-Civil War America. With how Gerwig handles Jo and Laurie’s relationship, how the sisters treat one another, and having a more realistic approach to how people’s ambitions are treated and supported, the film has a modern feel to it that makes it very relatable and shows the timelessness of the Alcott’s story. The only major issues I had was in how the film jumps between past and present because of how it can take away from certain story moments and arcs. For instance, there’s a moment where Amy gives Laurie an impassionate and mature speech about her feelings towards her work that’s followed by a jump to the past with her childishly upset about her foot being stuck in a bucket. When scenes are juxtaposed like this, it can make the arcs and strong emotional moments lose their luster and harder to fully connect to. There was one point that I had felt that the time jumping worked that surrounds Beth’s illness, but other than that, the anticipation, suspense, and messaging are hindered by this editing choice. Even the ending was a little messy to me at first with how it cuts between fantasy and reality, but it’s slowly growing on me.
Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women is not only a refreshing look at the world through a woman’s eyes, but a perfect showing of the novel’s timelessness and strength. The film is already racking up an onslaught of nominations, but as for me, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Ronan could nab her first Oscar and that Pugh could find her way in the crowded supporting category, but also that Gerwig can be honored with, at least, a director nom as well.