Greta Gerwig's Little Women weaves a stunningly heartfelt and achingly honest coming of age story with excellent performances from its entire cast.
Based on the 1868 novel written by Louisa May Alcott, Little Women is a story that has endured for more than a century and a half, with adaptations being done for the stage, film and TV over the years. Telling the story of four sisters who come of age in the years after the American Civil War, Little Women deals in themes of family, marriage and how girls find their way in life. The coming of age narrative has resonated with women and girls of all ages for generations and seems poised to do so for many to come. The latest iteration of Little Women features an ensemble cast of both established and up-and-coming performers who breathe new life into Alcott's classic tale. Greta Gerwig's Little Women weaves a stunningly heartfelt and achingly honest coming of age story with excellent performances from its entire cast.
Little Women follows the four March sisters - Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) - who live with their mother Marmee (Laura Dern) and spend a great deal of time with their neighbor and friend Laurie (Timothée Chalamet). The outspoken Jo dreams of becoming a writer and never settling down to get married, while both Meg and Amy set their sights on marrying good men. Beth, the youngest, is a skilled piano player with a kind heart. As the four sisters and Laurie grow up, though, they all must confront how much things can change as they deal with love, loss, marriage and heartbreak. Spanning two time periods seven years apart, Little Women showcases the March sisters when they're teenagers and pre-teens and later when they're grown women.
Gerwig directed Little Women in addition to adapting the screenplay from Alcott's original story, which itself was published in two parts, one following the March's young lives and the other their adult lives. Instead of telling the story in two distinct parts, Gerwig's script weaves the time periods together, telling parallel narratives that complement each other and work well to showcase how much each sister changed as they grew up. It's used to especially heartbreaking effect in a sequence showing Beth's illness as a young girl and later in life, during both of which Jo attempts to nurse her back to health. In this scene, and all the others, Gerwig proves herself an adept, stylish and genuinely sincere director. The love and care that Gerwig put into adapting the stories of the March sisters is evident from the script and directing of Little Women, offering a new take on Alcott's beloved story that respects its original themes.
In Little Women, Gerwig reteams with Ronan, who starred in the filmmaker's solo directorial debut, 2017's Lady Bird. The duo prove once again to be a force to be reckoned with as Ronan shines as the wonderfully brash and opinionated Jo March. But while Jo is perhaps the closest Little Women gets to a single protagonist, and Ronan carries that starring role well, Gerwig's script makes sure to give each of the March sisters' their due. Watson brings a great deal of depth and empathy to Meg, while there's a steel to Pugh's Amy that allows her to hold her own alongside Ronan's Jo in a way that's fascinating to watch. Scanlen's Beth has all the sweet charm that the youngest March sister needs. Dern and Meryl Streep round out the exceptionally strong main female cast, bringing warmth and cold sensibility, respectively. Lastly, Gerwig reteams with another Lady Bird star by casting Chalamet as Laurie, and the young actor excels in the role, bringing heart and swagger in equal measure. The on-screen duo of Chalamet and Ronan again light up the screen with their chemistry, though this time as Jo and Laurie.
Ultimately, Gerwig's Little Women is an earnest story of women that may take place in the aftermath of the Civil War but will resonate with modern audiences all the same. Gerwig does bring some modern sensibilities to Little Women, particularly in the film's entirely unsubtle critique of those who belittle stories written about and for women. Still, Gerwig's movie largely focuses on the intricacies of its female characters' lives, chronicling their ups and downs with a care that confirms the filmmaker's devotion to honestly portraying these stories. There are some pacing issues of Little Women, as the movie feels like it has multiple natural endpoints, then continues on so that viewers will feel every moment of its two-hour-plus runtime. Still, once the movie is over, those same viewers will wish to return immediately to the world Gerwig has crafted for this latest adaptation of Little Women.
Altogether, Little Women is a wonderful coming of age tale that will appeal to audiences of all ages, especially fans of Alcott's story. Gerwig may have put her own spin on the March sisters, but it's clear she holds a great deal of respect for Alcott's original work; the warmth of that love and respect is reflected in every scene in Little Women. Further, Little Women should be a major award season contender, and any nominations (and wins) Gerwig, Ronan and Chalamet receive are undoubtedly deserved. Though Alcott's work has been adapted many times before, Gerwig's movie could rightfully become the definitive adaptation, as the director delivers a timeless masterpiece that showcases not only her talents as a writer and director, but the phenomenal skill of the film's entire ensemble cast.
Little Women starts playing in U.S. theaters on Wednesday December 25th. It is 134 minutes long and rated PG for thematic elements and brief smoking.
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- Little Women (2019) release date: Dec 25, 2019