Except for the fact that it was a classic book that had been remade numerous times over the decades, my knowledge of Little Women was practically nil. Of course, as a kid, I would rather have been reading Robin Hood, Frankenstein, or Tom Sawyer over a book with a title clearly meant for the female audience. This left me entering the newest adaptation of Louis May Alcott’s beloved book mystified as to what I would experience, though I had some hopes since it was directed (and adapted) by Oscar nominee Greta Gerwig.
The result was, to say the very least, surprisingly heart warming, as Gerwig and the knockout cast deliver to both newbies (like me) as well as fans. While I may be wrong on some of the characters and their relationships, I will do my best (thankfully, there was an older couple two seats down the aisle from me, and I could here the woman explaining things to her husband.) The film is told in two separate times, seven years apart. The earlier days is during the civil war, where we meet the four march sisters. They are Jo (Saoirse Ronan, teaming up again with Gerwig after their 2017 film Lady Bird), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen).
Their father is off serving the North in the Civil War, so they try to make the best of things alongside their mother, Marmee (the wonderful Laura Dern). We also meet their neighbor, Mr. Laurence (the ever reliable Chris Cooper) and his grandson Theodore, aka “Laurie” (Timothee Chalamet, also from Lady Bird). And, of course, let us not forget Aunt March, played by Meryl Streep. There are many actresses who can proclaim they are “not always right, but are never wrong.”, but can you think of any you would want to have say that over Streep?
As is the case with all siblings (not just sisters), there is love, envy, forgiveness, resentment, and mischief. This is mainly shown in the earlier time, since the sisters are younger and less mature. Each sibling has their own unique strength: Meg (who I believe is the eldest) is drawn to the theater. Jo is a writer of stories. Amy is a painter. Beth is musically inclined on the piano. A good chunk of the film is how each sister (especially Jo) realizes that growing up means going down different roads. As Meg states,
“Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.”
They also have their different character traits as well (which I can only assume is true to the original material). While Meg and Beth are on the gentler side (especially Beth), it is Jo and Amy who are more head strong, which could explain why both are having feeling for Laurie. Jo herself states how she is amazed she was not born a boy. Even so, she is still prone to show her vulnerability.
One of the best examples of this is toward the end of the film, when Jo is talking to her mother about love (one of countless scenes of nearly impeccable acting). When asked if she loves a certain character, Jo responds,
“I care more to be loved. I want to be loved.”
“That’s not the same as loving.”
As humans, we are all looking for love. As children, we look towards our parents (or guardians). As we get older, we enter the stage of wishing for a significant other (once we realize cooties are not actually a thing.) Yet we realize that actual love is not a one way street: relationships don’t work if the love is not reciprocal.
Jo also has a moment of trying to defy God (which is an action that sums her character up in detail). While caring for a sick family member, Jo is told,
“We can’t stop God’s will.”
“Well, God hasn’t met my will yet. What Jo wills shall be done.”
Regardless of where we are in our walk with God, we have all tried to defy God and/or his will at one point or another. This is one of the most raw forms of pride we possess. Of course, when we have a loved one who is sick, injured, or depressed, we feel bad for them as well as ourselves. It is when we start thinking along the lines of “Well God, if you won’t do anything, then I will!” that we start going down the wrong path.
All the performers make their mark, but the two that stand out are Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh. As of this writing, both of their awards buzz has died down a little, but I would still not at all be surprised if they heard their names when the Oscar nominations are announced.
Perhaps the best part of the film, however, is how Gerwig (who clearly has a great film making career ahead of her) adapted the story. She balances the classical nature of the story with the right amount of contemporary energy that makes the film seem almost like a relic, yet still relatable.
Parents, this may be the family holiday movie that you don’t know your family actually needs (though I can see young boys not wanting to see this.) It is rated PG, mainly for the thematic elements. There is no swearing or violence, and only two kisses I can remember. I would guess a girl of any age would heart this film.
Little Women does have moments were it tends to drag on a bit, but very few times: I was basically enthralled the whole time. When you think of it, making this film was very risky. A PG family movie with mainly a female lead cast, no action or songs (basically, a film not steered by the Mouse House). Yet that does not take away from the films morals of life, heartbreak, romance, and all the little things in between. As one character states,
“Morals don’t sell nowadays.”
Little Women is nothing short of a delight.