When I heard that another film version of “Little Women” was coming out, I wondered how yet another adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s famous tale could possibly add to the numerous others that have graced the silver screen over the years. Lucky for me (and everyone else who sees Greta Gerwig’s new film), it’s fresh and classic at the same time.
Rather than a chronological telling, Gerwig, who also wrote the script, weaves the story into two intersecting story lines: the March girls as adults and the March girls as children.
At the outset of the film, Jo (Saoirse Ronan) lives in New York and her ink-stained fingers immediately peg her as a writer. She’s talking up her latest story to publisher, Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts). He’s telling her that if her main character is female, she has to be married by the end. Or dead. One or the other. Meg (Emma Watson) is already married to Mr. Brook (James Norton) with a couple of kids. Amy (Florence Pugh) is in Paris studying painting and being companion to Aunt March (Meryl Streep). Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is home in Concord with Marmee (Laura Dern).
Emma Watson, Florencee Pugh, Saoirse Ronan, and Eliza Scanlen in "Little Women." © 2019 Columbia Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Flash back to all the scenes we love from Alcott’s tale, especially as the girls meet next-door-neighbor, Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), who lives with his grandpa, Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper). As the girls welcome Laurie into their lives, Jo and he become especially close but her creative nature can't be pinned down.
Alcott’s novel has been around for 150 years, never going out of print in all that time. It’s a timeless classic and each film adaptation offers insight to the newest generation to experience the story on film. Gerwig’s movie shows March sisters who are their own women, embracing life, not because society’s conventions say they should, but because they are convinced their life choices are fulfilling each of their God-given purposes. At one point, Marmee tells Jo that she’s always known that special things were in store for her daughter’s fiery spirit.
It’s Papa March (Bob Odenkirk) who calls his children “little women” in his letters home from fighting for the Union in the Civil War. He and Marmee have instilled in each of the girls the passion to be the best they can be, even through their failures like, Meg’s when she dolls up for a party or Jo’s when she can’t hear constructive criticism. Especially moving is the scene when Marmee invites the little women to donate their Christmas breakfast to the starving Hummel family. They all traipse through the snow to the Hummel’s dark hovel and bring joy and light to the hungry family. That generosity, together with all the other life lessons learned from Marmee, ensure that Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, each in her own way, continues to bring good into their corner of the world.
Gerwig couldn’t have asked for a better cast. Saoirse Ronan brings spunk to Jo but it’s Florence Pugh as Amy who captures every scene she’s in. Laura Dern is the perfect Marmee and Chalamet, all floppy-haired and brooding when appropriate, inhabits Laurie with an impeccable balance of humor and seriousness. And, ah, Chris Cooper (I love Chris Cooper!). He plays the March’s rich neighbor who grows especially close to Beth with sensitivity and emotion. Then there’s Meryl Streep. I think she must have had a lot of fun playing the cantankerous, old Aunt March, the embodiment of tradition in the film. She encourages all the girls to marry wealthy men but still amazes Jo when, upon her death, she leaves Jo her large house. I think she knew that the enterprising ‘little woman’ would put it (and her talents) to good use.
Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in "Little Women." © 2019 Columbia Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
So, yes, even though it’s been 25 years since Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, and Christian Bale delighted us in the last version of “Little Women,” this new version? Definitely worth seeing.