“Little Women” was a highly anticipated release, and rightfully so — it is the seventh adaptation of the 19th century novel of the same name. Featuring a star-studded cast, it’s the second film under Greta Gerwig’s direction following the critically acclaimed “Lady Bird.” Aside from ensuring that every shot was aesthetically pleasing, Gerwig does a fantastic job at adapting the coming-of-age novel into a screenplay. She leads a discussion about the complexity of gender roles in the Civil War era while successfully highlighting the distinct personalities of the four March sisters. Gerwig isn’t the only one who pulls her weight: the actresses that portray the “little women” all light up the screen and play off the talented supporting cast, which includes Meryl Streep and Laura Dern. The gifted cast and the director’s spin on the novel make the latest adaptation of “Little Women” an instant, touching classic.
From a purely aesthetic point of view, “Little Women” is a joy to watch. Each shot, whether it is from the humble insides of the March household, the vibrant environment of a party or simply an overview of the landscape, is striking. The beautiful cinematography doesn’t feel overdone; the camera always lingers just enough for the audience to appreciate the scene before moving back to the action. The film is a tad grainy, which adds to the film’s period aspect, but doesn’t distract. If Gerwig’s intent is for each shot of the film to be artful, she definitely accomplished that.
Although it is set during and after the Civil War, Gerwig manages to bring a progressive view to her version that is only complemented by the warm, ambitious sisters. Hollywood veteran Saorise Ronan joins Florence Pugh (who had a breakthrough role in 2019’s “Midsommar”), “Sharp Objects”’s Eliza Scanlen and seasoned actress Emma Watson. Gerwig intertwines the bond the March sisters share and the oppressive gender roles of the era in order to showcase each character and present her own spin on their relationships. For example, while earlier adaptations have casted the smart, headstrong Jo (Ronan) in opposition to the strategic, beautiful Amy (Pugh), Gerwig does not position Amy in a villainous light against the heroine. Instead, the sisters are humanized; their personalities shine through and make their reactions to society’s demands to marry understandable. While Jo rages against the limitations women face in the 19th century, Meg subverts them subtly and Amy acknowledges them and plans strategically to ensure that her marriage (which she describes as an economic transaction) will be a practical decision.
One of the main draws of the film for many fans was the reunion between “Lady Bird” co-stars Ronan and Timothee Chalamet, who plays the wealthy, sentimental Laurie. The promise of a potential love affair between their characters only exacerbated fan excitement. There is no shortage of scenes in which Laurie and Jo bounce off each other’s energy. Chalamet’s lovestruck, lively Laurie supplements Jo’s fiery disposition well. As the film alternates between past and present, the dynamic between the two characters becomes increasingly more complicated and less playful. Regardless, Ronan and Chalamet are able to convey the complexity of their characters’ dynamic well.
Ronan, in particular, truly steals the show. Her interpretation of the character is incredible — Ronan’s Jo is heartbreakingly honest, temperamental, but loyal and loving. Although Jo’s bold declarations against marriage create tensions in her relationship with her childhood best friend, she stays true to her values and her dream of becoming a writer throughout the entire film. It’s unbelievably moving to watch the scenes in which Jo expresses her passion for writing.
Jo’s dream and her connection with Laurie place significant strain on her relationship to Amy, who is arguably one of the best and most important characters of the film. The interactions between the sisters establish an intricate but warm tone that is most visible in the interactions between the polar opposites. Flipping between the past and present creates a stark contrast in the ever evolving relationships within the March family, but the transition feels natural. The cast play this dynamic perfectly — it is obvious that the four sisters love each other unconditionally, but they are able to bring forth intense arguments and tragic scenes nonetheless.
The film loses directions toward the end and makes for quite a jarring ending. Unlikely couples are made and the future of some characters are left to audience interpretation. The lack of certainty may have been Gerwig’s compromise in order to remain faithful to the source material, and unfortunately, it does lessen what could have possibly been a more powerful ending. By the end though, Jo is triumphant, which ends the film on a strong note.
Verdict: Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” manages to hit nearly every nail on the head; the period piece is a touching view of the compromises four sisters make in their love and professional lives. The star-studded cast manages to breathe life into the characters, making for an engrossing watch.