First off, I’ve never read the book and I’ve only seen the 1994 film version of Little Women directed by Gillian Armstrong so that’s where I’m coming from. I love Greta Gerwig and I have to admit, I was surprised when she had decided to do a remake of Little Women as her follow up to Lady Bird but I was sure she would make a an interesting film. If you are going to do another version of something that has been done so often you had better bring something new to it. Gerwig does. Her script decides to play with time and create two timelines. It is clever and effective but it also brings consequences.
The story is well known. Louisa May Alcott’s 1968 novel is an autobiographical novel about her family. The father has gone off to fight in the Civil War leaving his wife, affectionately called Marmee, and their four daughters Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy. They’re poor but have a rich life. Jo (Saorsie Ronan) is the oldest and the most independent. She wants to be a write and she writes plays for her and her sisters to act out. Meg is the sister that longs to be married and have nice things. Beth is the sister with the heart of gold with a talent for piano playing and Amy is the youngest and wants to be an artist. They live next door to the Laurences and the sisters adapt young Theodeore Laurence, who they call Laurie, as a defacto brother. Laurie and Jo become very close though young Amy loves Laurie, Jo’s feelings are more mercurial. Their story spans seven years and the sisters find the realities of life drag the into adulthood and they must leave their idylic childhood behind.
Gerwig has made some interesting choices in the storytelling. She begins the film in the present and then flashes back to their childhood. It makes for some interesting story telling and clever scenes but it also frames the film in a more sad and wistful way. Gerwig’s direction is impressive. She definitely had a vision of how she wanted to tell this story and she creates some powerful sequences. The casting is perfect and the performances are strong especially Saorsie Ronan as the ever independent Jo and Florence Pugh as the young Amy who has always loved Laurie and is jealous of Jo’s relationship with him. Unfortunately, Timothee Chalamet does not deliver as Laurie. He comes across as a little boy and never strong enough to challenge either Jo or Amy’s affections.
Gerwig punches up the role of women at that time and connects it to the present beautifully. The scenes where Jo negotiates selling her work with the editor (Tracy Letts) are smart and clever. Gerwig also plays with the ending by making it ambiguous as to whether Jo marries Freidrich, the young German teacher. Louisa May Alcott never married in real life and so it seems that Jo March would not either.
There is much to like in this Little Women and much to admire and I will see it again. My crtiques aside there is one more piece of info that should be said. I saw the film with my friend Charlotte and throughout the film I heard her sniffling. I thought she may be coming down with a cold but once the film ended I realized that she had been crying almost from the beginning and never stopped. The book has had a profound affect on many generations of women and will continue to for generations to come.