Writer/Director Greta Gerwig’s Little Women has once again proven why Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel is a timeless classic. While pulling from such adored source material doesn’t guarantee an adaptation will be equally celebrated, Gerwig’s undeniable talents and that of those she surrounded herself with in the making of the film has.
Gerwig’s film is the seventh time the story has been adapted into a movie (with the last time being 1994) and yet her take feels completely fresh and is absolutely captivating right out of the gate. Those who aren’t familiar with Little Women may be a little lost or confused for the first 10-minutes or so, as we’re kind of thrown right into the latter part of the lives of the four sisters the film is about. One of the sisters, Amy (Florence Pugh) is in Paris and is travelling with her Aunt March (Maryl Streep) when a boy catches her eye. Amy leaps out of the carriage and rushes over to him screaming, “LAURIE!” They hug and she invites him to a party later that night. Now, it’s clear that they both know one another, but it all plays out like the audience should know who Laurie is over it being the actual introduction to the character.
That’s not a knock on the film’s structure, but more of a warning to those jumping in for the first time to not worry if you’re out of the loop in the opening moments, as the film quickly jumps back in time seven years earlier to properly introduce the audience to the March sisters: Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy and Beth (Eliza Scanlen,) as well as who Theodore ‘Laurie’ Laurence (Timothée Chalamet) is. In fact, the Gerwig’s nonlinear storytelling technique is part of what makes the film as engrossing as it is.
Only once are we told “7 years earlier…” and from there the film jumps between those two timelines without warning, so it’s up to the viewer to keep track of what’s happening and when. That sounds like a more daunting task than it is, as Gerwig does a great job of separating the two through certain visual cues, while also making the transitions between back and forth seem completely natural through fantastic, seamless storytelling. This style may put some off, though I feel when done right – which it has been here – it can be an even more rewarding experience for the viewer in the end, and also greatly add to the film’s repeat viewing value.
The March sisters each have their own unique personalities, and in such, may appeal to reviewers in different ways depending on whom they may relate with most. First up are the two older sisters, Jo and Meg. Jo wants to be a writer. She’s someone who doesn’t believe that women are only good for marrying and having children and looks to defy that social structure. She’s also the tomboy of the group and has quite the temper that she’s never been the best at reining in. Meg, on the other hand, is the more beautiful and traditional of the sisters. She dreams of marrying rich, though she’s also got her head on straight and isn’t snooty about it.
The younger sisters are Beth and Amy, though the two are polar opposites. Beth is the calm one in the family, the shyest of the foursome and an introvert of sorts. She’s a talented pianist and while all the sisters share a strong bond, she and Jo are especially close. Amy, on the other hand, is the bratty sister. She’s not someone you automatically hate, but she’s got a very spoiled, materialistic view of life, and some of the things she does throughout definitely don’t help get the audience on her side.
Laurie would be next up in order of importance, and he lives with his wealthy grandfather, Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper.) He’s intrigued by the sisters, and is specifically smitten with Jo, though he keeps his feelings close to the vest and becomes a close friend and the only male member of their girls club. Their mother, Marmee (Laura Dern), is a strong woman who has pieces of all her daughter’s personalities within her.
The casting choices to bring these characters to life was superb, with Ronan leading the way as Jo. Ronan perfectly captures Jo’s attitude, style and inner-conflict, all while carrying the majority of the story forward. I mean, there’s a reason she was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her work here, as she’s just outstanding. Watson brings a perfect grace and maturity to Meg that the role requires, and she’s also able to bring the proper emotional weight to this character that follows her heart and has to come to terms with the realities of doing so.
Scanlen plays Beth impeccably, making the character incredibly easy for the audience to adore as much as her sisters do. Lastly, Pugh – also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress here – is flawless as Amy. She just fully embraces the character’s self-centred personality and being able to go from the seething anger of a younger sister who feels scorned, to one that’s full of joy, almost as if she’s unaware of the true consequences that her immature actions cause. More importantly than their individual work in the film is how strong their chemistry is together. At no time did I question that these four weren’t actually sisters, as it’s so easy to just get immersed into this world that these four were always just the March sisters.
Whether you’re new to the story of Little Women, or you’ve been around for various adaptations, Gerwig’s brilliant work both on the page and behind the camera should not to be missed. It’s an inspirational story that may speak to people in different ways, and one that properly highlights that there’s no set mould for anyone, regardless of what society may say otherwise.
The video transfer in the film looks fantastic. It’s such a lively, warm looking film when needed, and cooler and more sombre when the mood requires, but it’s never depressing. It’s just a great look all around, and being shot on film it just really captures a stunning overall look. The Academy Award nominated score also sounds beautiful, and balances lovely alongside the sharp dialogue and wonderfully mixed sound effects.
A New Generation of Little Women – This is a 13-minute feature that sees the cast and crew talking about the original story, author Louisa May Alcott, making the story in a more modernized way for today’s audiences and a deeper look into the characters in the film.
Making a Modern Classic – This is a 9-minute feature that focuses more on the movie, the setting, the Academy Award winning costume design, and various other aspects of the filmmaking process.
Greta Gerwig: Women Making Art – This is another feature that’s just over 9-minutes in length and talks about Gerwig’s love of the source material, how Jo was influential in her career, and how she created the story based on how she viewed the source material.
Hair & Make—Up Test Sequence – This is a 3-minute showcase of various test shots of, well, hair and makeup. It’s well put together, albeit brief, and fits the era the movie was set in with the score playing throughout.
Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott – This is a 10-minute featurette that sees Jan Turnquist, the Executive Director of Alcott’s Orchard House, take the viewer on a tour of the home, talk about how the cast came to visit to really get a feel for where Alcott lived, she shows where Alcott wrote Little Women and why that was so important at the time, and it’s just a great piece all around.
Little Women Behind the Scenes – This is a three and a half minute promotional featurette that basically repeats bits we’ve already seen in the features above.
Sony Pictures Presents Little Women. Written & Directed by: Greta Gerwig. Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Chris Cooper, Maryl Streep. Running time: 135 Minutes. Rating: PG. Released on Blu-ray: Apr. 7, 2020.
Tags: Chris Cooper, Eliza Scanlen, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Greta Gerwig, Laura Dern, Little Women, Maryl Streep, Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet