Louisa May Alcott’s 1860s novel Little Women has been adapted to film more times that I can count, beginning in the silent era. So do we really need another one? Yes, we do. In the hands of the talented Greta Gerwig, this story of the four March sisters in Concord, Massachusetts feels as fresh and as relevant as any modern story. And blessed with a perfect cast including Saoirse Ronan, Laura Dern, and Timothée Chalamet, it’s one of the gems of this awards season.
In case you haven’t read the book or seen one of the many other adaptations here’s the gist of the story: Marmie (Laura Dern) is scraping by with her four daughters, Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) while Dad is off ministering to the Union troops in the Civil War. Their wealthy Aunt March (Meryl Streep) urges all the girls to marry rich, but that doesn’t stop Meg from marrying poor for love. Jo befriends their wealthy neighbor Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) but turns him down when he asks for her hand. Bereft, he heads to Europe and runs into Amy who is there with Aunt March trolling for a rich husband and hoping to become a painter. Meanwhile poor Beth, the sickly but sweet sister, stays at home and plays a lot of piano. Through it all Jo is pursuing a career as a writer, moving to New York and eschewing the proscribed life of a young lady. And she eventually pens a successful book based on the stories of her family.
The film cuts back and forth between the girls’ youth and their later lives. It’s a very close and warm family and though they may not be rich, they have a lot of fun, particularly when Jo writes plays for all of them to act out together. Of course it’s not all roses. Girls will be girls, and Amy’s jealousy is put on full display when she isn’t invited to a big party and takes it out by burning one of Jo’s books. And Beth eventually succumbs to her illness, devastating the family. But by the end, they’re one bigger happy family.
The film is gorgeously shot and Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh command the screen. Timothée Chalamet plays the sweet heartthrob quite well, too. This version of the classic seems less literary than others I remember, and I mean that in a good way. It’s an adaptation that honors but opens the original work. I loved Gerwig as an actress and hope to see her in another movie or three, but as a writer/director (Lady Bird), she’s a force to be reckoned with. I highly recommend her Little Women to audiences looking for a great uplifting family drama. The perfect film for the holidays!
[Mainstream Chick’s take: The moment I emerged from seeing this version of Little Women I texted my gal pals who meet for a movie every Christmas Day and alerted them that THIS was the film they should see. There’s simply no way they won’t all like it, at least on some level. It’s that good and entertaining and heartwarming. My only gripe was with the time shifting. The film opens with an introduction of the March women and where they are in the moment. It then goes back seven years to track the personal journeys that landed each of them in their present circumstances. Problem is they all look pretty much the same, making it difficult to know if we’re in the present or somewhere in the past. By the end of the film, the fresh-faced Chalamet (who is awesome as Laurie) somehow looked even younger to me! Overall though, this film works, regardless of whether you already know the story and have (or haven’t) watched previous iterations. Gerwig does a fantastic job making the film timeless, reflective, nostalgic and contemporary. I suspect Louisa May Alcott would be quite proud. Bring a tissue. The moments that hit you in the heart before will surely do so again. And then some. -hb]