LITTLE WOMEN Review

"Writing doesn't confer importance, it reflects it."
"No, writing about it will make it important."

It kind of feels like there's more excitement around Greta Gerwig's take on Little Women for all the factors involved than there is necessarily for the final product itself. Gerwig's follow-up to Lady Bird was going to be anticipated regardless, but given she decided to go with an adaptation of the oft adapted Louisa May Alcott classic only added something of an IP stamp to it; a built-in audience of sorts that became more enhanced given the Christmas day release...Sony knows what it's doing. Add to all of this the fact the film reunites the writer/director with Lady Bird stars Saorsie Ronan and Timothée Chalamet while bringing in the likes of Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper and Bob Odenkirk to boot and you may as well permanently pencil in a screening of Little Women on your Christmas itinerary from here to forever.

Oddly enough, I recall really enjoying and being somewhat enamored with the 1994 version of this story as my siblings, cousins and I would watch it on VHS on repeat at our Nanny's house when I was probably between the ages of nine and ten. The characters, the lifestyle and period details along with the inherent drama of the piece were all things I can remember being striking about the experience even if, prior to screening Gerwig's film, I couldn't recall many plot specifics. The hope was that Gerwig might find a way to both remind me of what I found so fascinating about that earlier take on the material while undoubtedly bringing her own, unique and deft approach to the themes of gender stereotypes and the balance of family and personal growth that run rampant throughout Alcott's novel.

Coming out of 2019's Little Women though, there's largely this sense of indifference. In other words, it’s fine, but Gerwig’s very specific voice never comes through in a way that transcends this being your run-of-the-mill period costume drama. Granted, I understand how difficult it might be to try and insert one's own voice into a literary classic, but while much of this new interpretation seems to have come in finding a new way to structure the lives of these young women Gerwig's version mostly rests on its laurels of the great writing at the heart of it and the aforementioned exceptional cast bringing it to life.

From left: Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Eliza Scanlen star as the March sisters in Little Women.
 Photo by Wilson Webb - © © 2019 CTMG, Inc.
Ronan is obviously fantastic and all kinds of perfect for Jo as she masquerades around the house, this ambitious young woman going after big things-which is why the book has remained so relevant and why a modern adaptation still works-because it calls for women to be exactly that. Watson's Meg and, unfortunately, Eliza Scanlen's Beth get the short end of the stick here which is a shame-especially in the case of Scanlen as she proved her presence earlier this year in Sharp Objects and also because Beth, despite her eccentricities, has such a sad, regretful arc that holds the family together-yet the film is more interested in the plight of Jo and the love triangle between her, Pugh's Amy and Chalamet's Laurie. Maybe the biggest take-away from this version is that I finally understand the appeal of Chalamet as he is exceedingly charming and often genuinely funny as this kind of lost boy in his grandfather's world of business who's searching for a place to truly belong. If Chalamet's charm is the biggest revelation though, a close second is how Gerwig handles the character of Amy who is typically characterized as the manipulator; the foil to Jo. Here though, Gerwig shows real empathy for Amy who, yes, is going after what she wants (sometimes ruthlessly), but more precisely knows what she wants. This is only seen as a threat or challenge to Jo because Jo only knows what she doesn't want. Gerwig's re-working of the timeline to accentuate these differences (not distastes for one another) paint the sisters as more alike than they'd probably care to admit; both intelligent, both articulate and both very talented in any number of areas the two favor one another if not in their desires, but in their drive to obtain them. Plus, Pugh just continues to nail the complete spectrum of emotions her characters this year have traveled (*cough* see Midsommar *cough*)

And so, despite not being nearly as captivated as I'd hoped to be with Gerwig's sophomore effort it would be foolish to think this version of Little Women won't introduce a new generation to the book and these characters and all the wonderful things they stand for and teach. These reasons alone are enough for this umpteenth version of the story to exist even if the hope had been for this version in particular to refresh said story in a more creative fashion.

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