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Little Women – Movie Review

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Little Women – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Sony Pictures

Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women has been adapted to the screen multiple times, with Gillian Armstrong and George Cukor serving as just a few of the filmmakers who have put their stamp on it. Greta Gerwig has now decided to take a crack at the material and makes the curious decision to tell the famous story in non-linear order. This is an idea that could have detracted from the film, but Gerwig is able to make it work as she explores the lives of the March Sisters. For people already familiar with the plot points, it’s interesting to see how Gerwig approaches the tale. Thankfully, the themes of sisterhood and feminism remain intact.

One of Gerwig’s more clever decisions is making Little Women even more autobiographical by borrowing further elements from Alcott’s own life. There is definitely a lot of Alcott in her lead protagonist Jo March as she attempts to prove her worth as a writer. There is a meta commentary going on when she meets with a publisher and continually haggles with him over the details of her manuscript. In those portions, Gerwig seems to be talking about how women are perceived in a male-dominated environment, not unlike the filmmaking world she is herself a part of. Alcott was ahead of her time, so these modern touches don’t betray her ideals.

The non-linear structure takes a little while to get used to, as Gerwig jumps around and lets the audience put the pieces together over when the narrative is. However, one does get into the groove after a while and it ends up being an inventive way to differentiate this adaptation from most others. While Jo is the central character, Gerwig also seems interested in Amy’s arc. When the film jumps between Amy in her older years with herself at a younger age, it shows a clear contrast as she attempts to prove herself capable of being a brilliant woman in a man’s world. The other March Sisters aren’t shortchanged, though, as we get a good idea of Beth’s kindness and Meg’s desire to become a happily married woman.

Gerwig fills Little Women with a stacked cast of talented actors. Saoirse Ronan continues to prove herself as one of the most talented young actresses of her generation, showing the needed force and flaws required for Jo and yet also allowing us to root for the character to succeed in her writing ambitions. Florence Pugh plays Amy with a mischievous nature, but we do see her growth and the wisdom she eventually gains. Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlon also do great work as Meg and Beth, respectively, as does Laura Dern as the matriarch of the house. Meanwhile, Chris Cooper brings a certain warmth to the old rich man living next door who grows to love the March Family.

Yes, Little Women has been adapted several times and there have been quite a few good film versions over the years. However, a new take is welcome and Greta Gerwig brings a lot of her own voice into the direction and screenplay. The required emotion of the piece comes through as well, along with a witty sense of humour. There is also something to be admired about how Gerwig plays with the traditional narrative structure. Despite this, the characters do grow and change and develop. Even though Little Women remains a period piece, there is a certain modern sensibility as it seeks to show the importance and creativity that women bring to every role they hold in society.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison