Hello, Movie Buffs!
In 1860s Massachusetts, the four March sisters – Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) – 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 for fear of losing her independence, Meg sets her sights on marrying a good man, Amy dreams of traveling to Europe to become a world-famous artist and later marry a rich bachelor, while kind and shy younger sister Beth simply wishes that her family stays together. But as the March sisters and Laurie grew up and start living their own lives in the years following the Civil War, they soon must confront how much things can change as they deal with love, loss, marriage, and heartbreak. When tragedy strikes can they find the strength to continue to pursue their dreams? Or will the damage be too great to bear? Directed and written by Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Little Women (2019) is the 7th film adaptation of the 1868 coming of age story of the same name by Louisa May Alcott. Spanning two time periods seven years apart, the story follows the March sisters as teenagers and then later as grown women.
Despite being a prolific reader myself, I never found the time to read the original text so my only source of reference for this film when I saw it was the 1994 film starring Winona Ryder, Christian Bale, and Clair Danes. By the time the credits were rolling, I found myself blown away by the depth and complexity of the story's message and the character’s performances. Like the other films, the story primarily follows Jo March, who represents Alcott, as she comes to the inspiration of Little Women. Her independent nature “too noble to curb” and free spirit gets frustrated with the world’s value of women and she expresses at times her disappointment at being born a girl. While this might prove to be shocking for some viewers, they must also remember that this film is set during the Civil War era and women had very few rights during that time.
But what makes this film different from its predecessors is the story’s timeline. Gerwig demonstrates skill with storytelling and film editing by choosing to move back and forth between the present and the past over a span of at least 7 years as well as highlighting the different stories of the March sisters and how each sister’s story is both different and parallel to each other. Despite growing up in a modest home, the March sisters grew up with independent thoughts and ideas of how they want to live their lives and refused to accept anything less. As a result, we get to see a number of coming-of-age moments where the audience gets to examine, through each character, what a woman’s place is. That she has the ability to be anything. A writer, a mother, an artist, a sister, a caregiver, a free spirit, and so much more. That is what the story’s message is about. A woman’s place is wherever she decides, and while women today have more options, her decisions are, as always, very personal to the heart. In addition to delivering a powerful message about love and worth, the story also manages to showcase parallels between the challenges the characters faced in childhood and the struggles they deal with in adulthood. All of these elements are weaved together into a cohesive manner that makes for an intriguing and heartfelt story that keeps the audience entertained until the end, even if most viewers are already familiar with the story.
The cast performances were solid and impactful, and a number of characters left a lasting impression. Alcott famously based her book’s independent and fearless protagonist, Jo March, on herself. She defies society's expectations of what it means to be a woman and as an aspiring writer like Alcott, feels the burden of supporting her family. Saoirse Ronan (Mary, Queen of Scots) was the perfect person to play Jo March. In an interview with Christian Post, she said, “I think often you'll gravitate toward roles that you can sometimes see yourself in, the good points and the bad points,” Ronan said. “But then also they may have things about them that you would like to be, that you would aspire to be. I liked that she was as driven as she was and she was protective over her work. That was sort of everything to her, but it stemmed from something very genuine and authentic, which was her family and her love for her family. I liked that, at the end of the day, [her family] would always be her inspiration.” If she didn’t have this connection with the character then I don’t think she would have been able to pull it off, but she did and her performance was a success.
Florence Pugh (Black Widow) does a fantastic job portraying Amy March, the youngest March sister. Although she is initially seen as a vain, selfish, and gangly limbed girl, Amy soon grows into an accomplished, poised, practical, and determined artist who seeks to break out of poverty by marrying a rich bachelor. Unlike its predecessors, this film allows Amy to be passionate and brave. She quietly steals the show with her more measured speech and graceful posture, though she never loses her spark or fierceness. Her later-interactions with Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) beautifully encapsulate the intelligent and libertarian nature of her character. She is the complete opposite of Jo but she is no less a force to be reckoned with.
Australian actress Eliza Scanlen plays the sweet, shy, and musical Beth, who died young from scarlet fever. The character is based upon Alcott's second-youngest sister, Lizzie, who also died from the same disease. Beth is the most misunderstood character in the film but Scanlen (HBO’s Sharp Objects) brings her to life by using her words and facial expressions to express that she doesn’t ask for much in life. Although she is a talented pianist, she’s not ambitious like her sisters to venture out and showcase her work to the public, instead, she’s happy to share her talent with her family, keeping as a private family moment. In addition, Scanlen uses her expressions, her words, and the tone of her words to show how she is internally angered by her untimely death but also learns to accept it and ensure that her family continues to follow their dreams long after she’s gone.
Laura Dern (Marriage Story), an award-winning actress, portrays the kind, loving, strong, and self-sacrificing March family matriarch, Marmee. While her husband, Father March (Bob Odenkirk - Better Call Saul) is away from home working as a chaplain in the Civil War, she acts as the family’s rock and moral compass. Throughout the film she models biblical values for her daughters, such as feeding the needy, reminding her girls to “not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26), and teaching them to be true to who they are despite what society says about them.
The rest of the cast does a fantastic job. Emma Watson’s (Beauty and the Beast) portrayal of Meg - the headstrong, clothes-conscious sister who sets aside her monetary temptations and marries for love regardless of financial considerations - brings a great deal of depth and empathy to the character. Although I am a huge fan of Christian Bale, Timothee Chalamet’s (The King) portrayal of Theodore "Laurie" Laurence is even better by adding his own style of heart and swagger to the character.. He demonstrates how the character struggles every bit as much as the March sisters in finding his way towards adulthood, and his chemistry with them, especially Jo and Amy, is solid. Chris Cooper (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) perfectly captures the broken spirit of Laurie’s grandfather, Meryl Streep (Big Little Lies, The Laundromat) rounds out the exceptionally strong main female cast by bringing some much needed cold sensibility to the story. French actor Louis Garrel (A Faithful Man) is a surprisingly appropriate addition as Jo’s New York quietly charismatic friend, Friedrich Bhaer, who is French in here instead of German. Tracy Letts (Lady Bird, Ford V. Ferrari) drops some deadpan comedy as Jo's charmingly sarcastic publisher Mr. Dashwood.
Overall, Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women (2019) is the 7th film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel of the same name and features an earnest coming of age story of women that will resonate with modern audiences, despite being set during the Civil War. The story focuses on the intricacies of the March sisters' lives as they discover where they belong in this world, while still remaining true to themselves. The story follows a different timeline than its predecessors but it is no less respectful to its source material. The cast performances are solid and better than ever, keep an eye on key characters like Joe, Amy, Beth, Laurie, and even Marmee. Little Women is a timeless masterpiece that pays respect to its source material but also manages to be something that is entirely it's own and I highly recommend that you check it out, especially if you are fans of the material.
Final Vote --- 10 of 10 stars
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