Just like Jane Austen novels, Little Women is one of those iconic stories that people can’t seem to help but adapt again and again. Thankfully, Greta Gerwig’s most recent adaptation brings a fresh perspective and energy to the story of the March sisters, creating a new classic for generations young and old.
Louisa May Alcott’s novel tells the story of a family of women in mid-19th century Massachusetts known for their kindness as much as their spirit. There’s the eldest, Meg March (Emma Watson), who loves being an actress but yearns for a husband and children of her own; Jo March (Saoirse Ronan), our headstrong protagonist who’s determined to become a great writer; Beth March (Eliza Scanlan), the quiet sister that enjoys staying home and playing piano; and Amy March (Florence Pugh), the youngest and most fashionable, who dreams of becoming a painter and living a life of luxury. They and their mother, Marmee (Laura Dern), befriend Laurie (Timothee Chalamet), a free spirited upper-class young man who becomes charmed by the March family and develops a close bond with Jo in particular.
If you’ve read the book or seen the 1994 film adaptation starring Winona Ryder and Christian Bale, you know full well how this story plays out. And Gerwig understands this. Instead of telling us the familiar story linearly, she jumps around in time, beginning the film when Jo is already in New York City, pitching her story ideas, and flashes backwards and forwards to tell us the story. It heightens the drama and leaves the audience eager to fill in the missing pieces, creating a film that captures you even though you may know what will happen next.
As with her directorial debut Ladybird, Gerwig is adept at letting her leads shine with youth and unblemished idealism. The film is an energetic delight led by Ronan and her inherent chemistry with her sisters and Chalamet’s Laurie. Gerwig places particular emphasis on the family’s ambition. These women all want to pursue their passions, whether that be writing, painting or raising children. It feels utterly defiant in the face of a culture that tells them to sit down and stay quiet, represented here, in part, by their wealthy aunt (Meryl Streep).
The visuals and the costumes are sumptuous, but not so frilly as to be uptight. Jo and Laurie in particular have a modern air about them in their relationship and clothing, and costume designer Jacqueline Durran has said that she had the two, as well as the sisters, swap pieces to illustrate their closeness.
Gerwig’s adaptation immediately feels like a rewatchable classic. The perfect film to take in with friends and family and the perfect film to put on, like a cozy blanket, for a few quiet hours at home. Heartwarming and inspiring, Gerwig nails her second feature film.