‘Little Women’ // Film Review: Greta Gerwig’s Modern Take on a Beloved Classic

Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1868 novel, “Little Women,” has been heavily regarded as one of the most popular novels ever written. So popular that became a franchise afterward. There have also been many adaptations translated onto the screen, television series, and even stage musicals. Writer/director Greta Gerwig’s version would be the first I would come across this story. I heard of the 1994 movie, which earned Winona Ryder an Oscar-nomination for Best Actress, and there was a modern re-telling with Lea Thompson last year that nobody even heard of. But we can easily forget that one since this latest take on the coming-of-age tale won’t be forgotten soon.

What’s the Story: This follows the lives of the March sisters, Josephine “Jo” (Saoirse Ronan), Amy (Florence Pugh), Margaret “Meg” (Emma Watson), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen, Sharp Objects), as they are dealing with living their separate lives changing and supporting each other in times of struggle after the American Civil War ended.

Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen in Little Women (2019)

For me, I was excited to see Gerwig’s sophomore effort in directing after 2017’s Lady Bird, which was one of my favorite movies that year with Ronan’s performance as the titular character being my favorite. It was the movie that got some Oscar love, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Original Screenplay. Though failing to win anything that night, she was allowed to helm this. Since I haven’t read the book, this was my first experience with the timeless story. But it already invested me in the film just based on the ensemble of talented actors. So, coming from this through new eyes, it’s easy to say we got one of the best movies to end the decade on a high note with Little Women.

When I first heard she was taking on a period piece, a part of me was a little worried this would be too modern and be too similar to what Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. But she handled this in a way that didn’t appear pretentious and understood the source material faithfully that will please fans of the book without making a ton of changes from what I assumed. Maybe she read the book when she was younger and felt keeping the setting in a quiet-like way that’s fitting to those who never had the chance to be involved with a story like this and feeling like these characters truly matter. In some way, it came as a surprise to learn this was more lighthearted even before more the dramatic work is ahead. Fun fact: She was pregnant with her son while filming.

Every single performance that Little Women offers never falls short of greatness. But just the sisterly relationship between its stars was believable with any of the scenes they shared. Working with the Gerwig once again, Ronan gives another unforgettable performance in here, as she is becoming one of my favorite actresses to watch. There’s nobody better to play Jo than her. A character who wants to become a writer and not tied down into marriage like everybody else. The fiercely independent kind of relatable woman, no questions asked. Could we see another Oscar nomination for the 25-year-old? Quite possibly.

There’s no other actress that had a big breakout year than Pugh. She already crushed it with Fighting with My Family and Midsommar, respectively, but her performance as Amy March beats out all when her biggest passion in life is to become a famous painter.

Watson was also wonderful as Meg, giving the best performance I’ve seen from her since The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Originally, Emma Stone was offered the part, and you honestly can’t see anyone else but Watson in the role. Scanlen might’ve gotten the least amount of screen time out of everybody else, but she sure can make a lasting impact on the characters as Beth, who loves to play the piano. The always lovable Timothée Chalamet as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence was just charismatic as ever. The chemistry he shares with Ronan or Pugh is unbelievable when you can feel the sparks between them when his heart is there for either on them.

Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in Little Women (2019)

Then you also have Laura Dern in another great role this year as Marmee March (the other role being in Marriage Story), Meryl Streep as the wealthy Aunt March, and Chris Cooper as Laurie’s grandfather.

On a technical level, everything was perfect beyond belief. The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux was gorgeous, makes you feel like it transports us back to the past when these wide shots are unbelievably amazing. Probably the most stunning film by far this year. There’s this one shot where Ronan and Scanlen are on a beach I will remember as one of my favorite shots of the year. The costume design is truly becoming as aspect in period movies that I’m going to pay attention now, and the work done by Jacqueline Durran might just win her another Oscar. And finally, Alexandre Desplat has composed another marvelous and fantastic score that can’t be replicated.

When thinking of any problems I had with the film, it consists of time-jumps between years, and it was a little confusing at first since the characters look about the same. That might be a choice made my her since some say the other adaptations might’ve been told in linear form. But besides that minor issue, this was fast-paced enjoyment.

Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, and Florence Pugh in Little Women (2019)

What more can I say about Little Women besides being completely splendid? Gerwig’s adaptation was the perfect follow-up to Lady Bird, with an engaging story filled with passion and life that’s made for this modern age in time. This is one of those movies this year where it makes you shed tears of joy one minute, then shed tears of sadness the next. I even heard people in my audience sniffing. Way to go, Gerwig. This is a great movie to take little girls to around this time, and I bet they won’t be disappointed. Grade: A-

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