Dan's Review: Greta Gerwig's "Little Women" adaptation is one of the best films of 2019
Dec 24, 2019 07:00AM
● By Dan Metcalf
Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen in Little Women - © 2019 Sony Pictures.
Little Women (Sony)
Rated PG for thematic elements and brief smoking.
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, Abby Quinn.
Written by Greta Gerwig, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott.
Directed by Greta Gerwig.
When a book is adapted more than once, you know there’s something special going on. Louisa May Alcott’s classic “Little Women” novel has been adapted into several stage plays, television movies (or miniseries) and no less than seven movies, dating back the silent film era. The version near and dearest to most hearts is Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 installment, starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon. Like most people, I was a little skeptical that the world was ready for another version, perhaps feeling the same fatigue we’ve experienced from countless Spider-Man incarnations. I softened my skepticism when I learned Greta Gerwig was writing and directing this holiday season’s release of Little Women since I have grown very fond of her work of late, especially 2017’s Lady Bird, starring Saoirse Ronan.
This time around, Ronan portrays Jo March, the headstrong writer who adapts her family’s struggles and triumphs into literature. Her tales involve her sisters Meg (Emma Watson), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Amy (Florence Pugh), along with her mother Marmee (Laura Dern) and their associations with the neighbor boy “Laurie” (Timothée Chalamet). By now, most people are familiar with the March family’s story (seen as a quasi-biography of Alcott herself), and Jo’s fondness for writing and growing up in rural Massachusetts. We follow Jo as she reminisces on her sisters and their loves, joys, and struggles through maturity. With their dad fighting in the Civil War, the women are compelled to take care of themselves. Jo cares for her stern, wealthy Aunt March (Meryl Streep) as Meg falls in love with Laurie’s tutor John Brooke (James Norton). Beth contracts Scarlet Fever and is saved from near death with a little help from Laurie’s Grandfather (Chris Cooper), who had previously appreciated her musical talents. As the youngest, Amy experiences feelings of inadequacy and often lashes out against Jo in particular, causing a rift in their relationship. When Jo spurns Laurie’s love, she escapes to New York where she earns a meager living as a tutor and writer. Jo also befriends Friedrich, a German professor who critiques her writing. Amy goes on a trip to Europe with Aunt March, where she meets up with Laurie and romance ensues. When Beth’s health takes a turn for the worse, Jo returns home to care for her. The aftermath of Beth’s struggle, her loneliness after refusing Laurie, and her stalled writing career, Jo faces an uncertain future. Her life changes when Friedrich visits her home and her publisher (Tracy Letts) shows interest in her “Little Women” book.
Little Women is a delightful new take on Alcott’s literary masterpiece, presented with the exceptional talent of Gerwig, whose script and direction are perfectly suited for the remarkable cast. Saoirse Ronan delivers another powerful performance, complimenting the ensemble that brings new chemistry to familiar characters. I was impressed that Streep avoided devouring the scenery with her famed gravitas, allowing others to shine through a role that is truly supporting. If there’s one actor who really got my attention, it’s Florence Pugh, whose magnetism, screen presence and grace are evident in every scene she appears.
Little Women is a heartfelt homage to the spirit of Alcott’s works and life, providing just enough romance and a sufficient amount of inspiration for female empowerment in the face of 19th Century male domination.
Little Women is one of the best films of the year and can be enjoyed by the entire family this holiday season.
"Little Women" Trailer