Little Women delivers big

Of all media in the world, Louisa May Alcott’s timeless classic, Little Women, seemed to be a story that was not lacking. In addition to the original novel, there have been four movies, three mini-series, a stage adaption, and even a Japanese television show in the 80’s about the trials of the four March sisters.  

So, when Greta Gerwig announced a few years ago she would be spearheading yet another film rendition, as a fan of the story, I was thrilled, but as a reasonable consumer of media, I was a bit confused and tired. 

Why do we need another? Haven’t the versions already in existence filled the Little Women quota in the world? Isn’t the 1994 version already considered to be the definitive adaption?

Upon watching Gerwig’s film, all worries and complaints in me ceased. It was perfect. 

Little Women tells the story of four sisters, the feisty writer Jo (Saoirse Ronan), the matronly eldest child Meg (Emma Watson), the gentle, musical Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and the proud and high hoping Amy (Florence Pugh). 

All characters remain true to their origins but dipped with love, similar to how Gerwig’s characters were written in her 2017 directorial debut, Lady Bird. The four girls are all so specifically themselves, each actress falling right into place as their respective sister whose personalities are comfortingly familiar to audiences.  

But how they interact with each other feels so natural. Coming from a family of three girls, I can say with ease that this movie gets sisters. Scenes with all of the four, and those with Marmee, the wonderful Laura Dern, show the true dynamics of a family. Thanks to the excellent screenplay, the conversations have all the smart-witted comments siblings make to each other, beats of humor and sorrow and a feeling of trust between the cast. The director/writer also did a stellar job of keeping the language similar to how it would have been in the 1800s but still making it able to be clearly understood by audiences without the strain of defining archaic words.

Gerwig’s skill as a director and writer shine through ardently with the leads, but the supporting cast also finds its place in the film. Timothée Chalamet as the boy next door, practically fifth sister, Laurie is fantastic. Louis Garrel as the notoriously German, old, unattractive, smart Professor Bhaer, is now french, younger, better looking but still just as warm and intelligent as ever. James Norton as the kind John Brooke makes the most of his smaller role as well. And Meryl Streep plays Aunt March; I think that casting choice speaks for itself. 

Among the bright night sky that is the group of stars, Florence Pugh shines the brightest. Amy has historically been the least favorite sister. I always saw her as the bratty baby, and like many many others, hated her divisive ending. But here it makes sense. What has always been such a jarring character transformation, from ungrateful child to mature and forward-thinking woman of society, has seemed like two completely different people. But Pugh handles the largest character arch in the story with grace. You leave the movie with an intense soft spot for the youngest March daughter, and a greater understanding of why her motivations, in the end, have always made sense. Not to mention her chemistry with Timothée Chalamet is one of my favorite parts of the film. 

But, on a more technical level, what truly sets this adaption apart is the editing. Instead of telling the story in linear order, the narrative flashes back and forth between a time period of seven years. And, though I didn’t find this constant jumping to be confusing, extra clarity was provided to the audience through the use of color. The past scenes of childhood were warmer with a golden tint, while the present was much cooler with blue undertones. This chopped-up narrative doesn’t feel like a tool to force uniqueness on Gerwig’s version. Instead, it services the true messages of the story and pays respect to the parallels in Alcott’s original novel.

In all senses, Greta Gerwig’s masterful approach to the film exacerbates the story’s themes of love, family, and ambition beautifully and proves that even a 152-year-old book has life left in it.