Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is a book that can be counted as one of the seminal American classics. Based upon Alcott’s childhood growing up in Concord, Massachusetts, it follows the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – as they transition from childhood to adulthood in a post-Civil War Massachusetts. Being a beloved work of American literature, it has been adapted to film several times, with the most well-known adaptations being in 1933 by George Cukor, 1949 by Mervyn LeRoy, and 1994 by Gillian Armstrong. Now, actress and filmmaker Greta Gerwig has brought us the latest adaptation of the classic novel as a follow up to her directorial debut Ladybird, not only directing but also writing the script. And she brings us one of the most charming movies of the year.
A Charming Cast Carried by Excellent Performances
I went into this movie with little to no knowledge of the source material, only knowing that Alcott had based it off of her childhood with her three sisters. However, what did catch my interested were the cast, more notably, the actresses playing the March sisters: Saoirse Ronan (who play Jo), Florence Pugh (who plays Amy), Emma Watson (who plays Meg) and Eliza Scanlen (who plays Beth). These four actresses do a great job of carrying the movie through their performances. Saoirse Ronan (who was the lead in Gerwig’s Ladybird) does a wonderful job of playing the very headstrong and free-spirited Jo. She was the character I was interested in the most and someone who I found myself relating to, as I am a writer just like her (hence this blog). Both Emma Watson and Florence Pugh are also great as both Meg and Amy. And I really did buy all of them as sisters (and that’s not just because Ronan, Watson, and Pugh have very similar looking eyebrows). They all have fantastic chemistry with one another in the film, be it where they bicker with one another or when they rehearse and put on one of Jo’s plays. As somebody with two brothers, I found several moments with the March sisters that I found relatable or similar to my own experiences.
Outside of the March sisters, the rest of the cast is also excellent. The particular stand outs among the cast have to be Laura Dern as Marmee March, the March family matriarch and Timotheé Chalamet as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, the next-door neighbor and childhood friend of the March sisters. Dern does a brilliant job of portraying Marmee, giving her a lot of warmth and kindness as she guides her four daughters through life. Chalamet, on the other hand, perfectly captures the charm and charisma that someone like Laurie is supposed to have. However, a role in the film that surprised me was Bob Odenkirk as Robert March, the father of the four sisters. I was genuinely shocked to see him when he comes home from the Civil War on Christmas Day. But Odenkirk is great as Robert, as he perfectly captures the warmth as he says that he is proud to see his “little women” again.
As you have noticed, I cannot stop praising the cast for perfectly capturing the warmth that the March family has. Both the actors, along with Greta Gerwig’s direction and screenwriting abilities, capture how charming and charismatic Alcott’s original dialogue is. I just wanted to sit back and listen to the characters talk with one another. It was simply a delight to listen to characters talk to one another.
Brilliant Direction Aided by Beautiful Cinematography
Little Women is a book that has been adapted several times throughout film history. One has to do something in order to have their adaptation stand out against the others. Greta Gerwig is a director and screenwriter that is more up to the task. Rather than show the events of the book in a linear fashion, she tells it out of order. The film opens on what can be considered the present, with Jo living in New York, Amy off in Paris with Aunt March, and Meg raising her family. Throughout the film, it would flashback to the past where it shows the March sisters living with their mother at their family home during the Civil War. What I love is how Gerwig presents the contrast in these scenes. The flashbacks are filmed in very warm, bright, and vibrant colors, while the present scenes are filmed in gloomier, colder, and gray colors. The contrast between these scenes not only help distinguish them from one another, but also capture the mood and feeling of these scenes.
Praise should also go to the cinematography of the movie. Done by French cinematographer Yorick Le Saux (who done work on movies such as Clouds of Sils Maria and Only Lovers Left Alive), it perfectly captures the New England countryside, making it look lush and beautiful throughout the various seasons of the movie. Credit should also go to the set and costume design, which does a fantastic job of replicating the era, making it look very authentic.
However, if there is one criticism that I have for the film, and it is this: I honestly felt more invested in some subplots when compared to others. Jo’s subplot kept me thoroughly engaged, as not only did I personally related to her, but I wanted to see her succeeded in helping Beth get better. Contrast this to Amy’s storyline in Paris, where I found myself trying to fight off sleep in order to pay attention. It also doesn’t help that I found Amy hard to like, especially after she burned the manuscript to Jo’s novel in a fit of jealous rage.
Despite my own problems, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is still a delightfully feel good and charming movie. The cast, especially the actresses playing the four March sisters) are excellent, and it’s a movie that is full of charisma and warmth. Gerwig’s direction is brilliant, and the cinematography really adds to the film. It’s the perfect movie to see around the Holiday season, and I highly recommend it.