Review: “Little Women”

Discover a fresh adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s  generational literary classic

The lasting significance of “Little Women” is anything but little. Louisa May Alcott’s original novel, a timeless tale of four drastically different sisters coming of age in 1860s New England, has seen countless different adaptations on the big screen through the years. When it was first announced that another would soon be on its way, some audiences questioned its necessity and whether any new performance could rival Winona Ryder’s Jo March in the 1994 version of the film. But on Christmas Day of 2019, a beautiful retelling of the classic story swept audiences around the world off their feet and created a new generation of “Little Women” fans.

Directed by Greta Gerwig, this film truly is timeless, with the same fireside warmth of the familiarity of other “Little Women” adaptations. With its heartfelt and heated discussions between characters, stunning original score and beloved actors and actresses such as Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet and Meryl Streep, it is sure to be a classic and go down in history as one of the best.

The story has always been somewhat centered around Jo March, the second-oldest March sister who is a writer with big dreams, an independent spirit and a fiery temper. Saoirse Ronan’s Jo is a tour de force, reminiscent of Ronan’s performance as the titular headstrong character in Gerwig’s “Lady Bird.” Ronan always brings a level of depth to her portrayals of strong-willed female characters, and she also brings a new determination and a modern sense of feminism to the character of Jo. She speaks to everyone she comes into contact with in the exact same way that she writes: fearlessly.

Emma Watson plays Meg March, the oldest sister, bringing a soft yet strong feeling of oldest sibling responsibility to her wayward sisters while their father is away at war and their mother, Marmee (Laura Dern), leaves to care for him. The diminutive Beth March is played by Eliza Scanlen. Her needlepoint creations, love for music and soft-spoken demeanor make it easy for the audience to fall in love with her. The youngest (but definitely loudest) sister, Amy, is played by Florence Pugh. She develops Amy’s childish whininess into poised grace as she grows from a spoiled little girl into a driven artist with refined tastes for everything from her elegant clothing to her wish to travel the world.

Each of the sisters gets time to shine in scenes of their own that contribute to their individual storylines: Meg’s marriage and motherhood, Jo’s pursuit of her writing career in New York, Beth’s struggle with illness and passion for music and Amy’s dream to be “the greatest painter in the wooorld” in Paris. Whenever they all reunite at various points within the film, they meld into a chaotic mess of laughter and screams that are typical of any sisters, no matter what time period they exist in. They never seem to agree on anything, from what dress one of them looks the best in to what it really means to be a woman in the 1800s. The portrayal of familial struggle and unconditional love despite differences is one aspect that has contributed to why “Little Women” has remained such a cherished story across generations.

The film transitions back and forth between the past and the present as the Marches return home to deal with family difficulties and peronal prolems. Throughout these transitions, certain scenes almost exactly parallel one another as the family finds themselves dealing with familiar issues that they have faced before. (One tragic example shows Jo waking up in her old bedroom to find one of her sisters missing from her bed, each time with a different outcome — you’ll know it when you see it.)

Timothée Chalamet shines as Laurie, the March sisters’ next-door neighbor, trusted friend and eventual love triangle component, which forces two of the sisters to come face-to-face with some hard truths. He scampers around like a newborn deer, following the sisters everywhere they go as they grow up alongside each other and gradually transition into adulthood. His soft gaze and fluffy hair paint him as the perfect picture of boyish youth, even during the flashed-forward scenes where he is a full-fledged adult but still can’t seem to act like one. His chemistry with Ronan, which they developed together as costars in Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” is natural yet absolutely electric to watch every time they share the silver screen.

Every single scene within the film looks like a carefully crafted Renaissance painting. As the story unfolds in front of the audience’s eyes, they notice that no prop piece is out of place; under Gerwig’s expert direction, every aspect of every shot is intentional. The colors throughout the film are deep and vivid, yet soft at the same time. They speak to the different moods and personalities of each of the characters throughout scenes, such as the trademark soft pink and green that Beth wears in opposition to Jo’s bold shades of red and navy blue. 

The most striking aspect of the latest adaptation of “Little Women” is the passion that oozes out of every aspect of it, from intense exchanges of dialogue between characters to the exquisite set design to moving soundtrack full of stirring instrumentals. The film capitalizes on the emerging feminist semtiments of the era and the different dreams and goals that women continue to have to this day. But no matter how different each of these characters are, the love of family and the pursuit of their individual dreams is what brings them together in the end. In the words of Jo March, “Life is too short to be angry at one’s sisters.”

~Anna Dorl, Lifestyle Editor~

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