Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women gets a Greta Gerwig update
The first edition of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, Little Women, was published in 1868—before you or your grandparents were born. Since then, it has been adapted multiple times, with Greta Gerwig’s 2019 feature film making the most recent headlines.
Let’s talk about the plot in the aspects that it never seems to veer away from, first. There are four March sisters: Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth. Being the eldest, Meg tries her best to remain put together and knows which foot she should put forward at all times. Meanwhile, Jo is headstrong, dreams of independence and refuses to stick to tradition—in dress, in attitude and in growth. Amy, eager to be seen as an adult, is loud mouthed and quick to act (a little selfishly, sometimes). Beth is “the best of them,” quiet and supportive and content.
And, of course, there is Laurie, who is pretty much the fifth March sister although he is wealthy, privileged and in love with Jo.
Warning: Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the book or seen any of the onscreen adaptations.
Now let’s get the obvious out of the way (as dictated by the Oscar noms Little Women received): Saoirse Ronan as Jo and Florence Pugh as Amy is what happens when actors become their characters; Jo was the underdog to cheer for and Amy was annoying AF. The script is timeless, the music (while understated) tells a story of its own and the costume design is quite literally out of this era. And yes, that Best Picture nod was well-deserved (though I still think that Greta Gerwig was robbed of a Best Director nomination).
I need to talk about Saoirse a little bit more; forgive me. I might be a little biased, but the character of Jo is not one-dimensional. Yes, she has her head on straight and her eyes set on a certain future and she gets angry with anyone that comes in the way of that, but she knows when to bend. When the important things are put on the line, she is the first to take a step back and reel herself in. And it’s only when she knows that everyone else is in a place northward of “just okay,” that she lets herself truly be selfish.
“Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts.
And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty.
I’m so sick of people saying that love is all a woman is fit for.”
And then there are the other factors that didn’t quite make it to The Academy’s short list: that scene of Timothée Chalamet pouring his heart out to Jo on that hill, the joy on his face when they first danced, the heartbreak he showcased in that party in Paris with Amy. The strength and selflessness of Laura Dern’s Marmee, Meg arguing that every dream is relevant, Beth’s quiet charm.
I swear the thought that went into and the attention to the characters of this story are almost unmatched.
The production and set design of the film deserve praise, as well. The scenes, aesthetically, are cool to the eyes and one feature doesn’t distractingly demand attention. But again: The truly brilliant thing about Little Women is that, while it doesn’t stray away from the original narrative all that much, you are still caught up in the story. The coming-of-age tale of the March sisters is compelling and will remain so—that’s why it’s a classic.
And with Greta Gerwig at the helm of the 2019 feature film’s direction and screenplay, we have ourselves a goddamn winner.
Art Alexandra Lara