Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Written by: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlon, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet
Some properties and stories carry so much meaning that they continually get adapted for decades much like A Star is Born and in this case, Little Women. With each continual adaptation being created, more justifications are needed for once again telling this story. As displayed through this film, Greta Gerwig plays with the timelines to add even more beauty and weight to the already touching narrative.
Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) and her sisters Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlon) live a life of collaboration and plenty of fights. Each of them has their own aspirations for life. They have a neighbor, Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), who joins the group and forms a strong bond with Jo. Together they all get into mischievous situations and learn about the importance of their decisions and how not all women want the same thing.
Oh my goodness, Greta Gerwig has done it again. Not only did she create one of my favorite films of all-time, Lady Bird, with her directorial debut but she goes ahead and creates a masterful piece of undeniable beauty in her sophomore effort. Her choosing of this material did raise eyebrows because it seemed like an easy choice for someone who has done well with original works. My doubts quickly melted away once I witnessed exactly what she put together in this magnificent film.
Instead of telling the story in a straight-forward manner as the other versions have done, Gerwig splits it into two distinct timelines and cuts to both throughout the runtime of the film. A directorial choice that plays out perfectly. The difference in age of the characters within the two timelines is not big enough for these to be an obvious distinction. Gerwig ensures that the color palettes and the cinematography of the two timelines jump out. The past has a warm palette of colors, which indicate the nostalgic look into the past and how life seemed so easy when younger. Then cutting into the future, deep blues were utilized to give the cold reality of the present. Something easy to pick out and eliminates all confusion but it also adds incredible emotional heft. One scene in particular cuts between the past and present as Jo experiences a particular event that truly shattered my heart into pieces. A brilliant display of editing that added more emotion than I would have ever expected.
In tellings of this tale, much of the focus usually lands on Jo March, but Gerwig puts a focus on all of the sisters and allows them to be fully formed as well. Jo certainly remains the focal point of the story, but Meg, Amy, and Beth receive their moments in the spotlight to shine. Meg may seem like a boring character but she has her own dreams, which may not include being a famous writer or artist, but nonetheless her own ambitions. That idea flows through the connection of the sisters and how it assists in Jo’s development. It plays directly into the monologue Jo delivers about what women can do. Just because a particular woman sees marriage as the goal they want to achieve does not diminish their accomplishment compared to another alternative.
When Gerwig attached her name to this project, big names started to sign on and quickly created an incredible ensemble. The best of them all being my favorite contemporary actor, Saoirse Ronan as Jo March. Ronan had a 2010s like no other, putting on beautiful performances and picking up some Academy Award nominations in the process. She carries the weight of homesickness and grief in Brooklyn and learns to appreciate her hometown and family in Lady Bird. She never fails to impress me with the performances she puts on and she delivers once again as Jo March. Ronan embodies the spirit and struggle of Jo; someone who wants independence as a woman and the profession of writing. Jo has no time for love and expects her sisters to do the same. The monologue sequences Ronan delivers are devastatingly raw and further displays why she rightfully belongs as my pick for the actor of the decade.
All of the other March sisters and Marmee (Laura Dern) received their own spotlights throughout the film. Emma Watson as Meg gave a delicate and loving performance for a character that typically does not offer much in the story. We are able to see more about her relationship with the man she marries and what her priorities have always been. Eliza Scanlon as Beth carries the heart of the story within her and as the youngest, represents the innocence of the world through her skillful use of the piano. Laura Dern as Marmee brought compassion, but also anger to the role because of the circumstances she has to juggle for her husband and her daughters. The one March woman that Gerwig had a keen focus on is the ever-controversial Amy portrayed by Florence Pugh.
In other iterations of the story, Amy appears as the annoying little sister that complains and wants to tag along to events with Jo and Meg. That side of Amy shows up in this film, but a more sympathetic look into her motives shows a character trying her best for the family. She has an initial goal of being a famous artist but then once seeing that Meg married a poor man and Jo seems to not care for matrimony, the future of her family lies squarely on her soldiers. That burden dictates the type of character she represents in the story. Looking through Amy with that lens further humanizes her beyond being the annoying little sister. Part of that success comes from Florence Pugh. She had to portray Amy as a small girl and a young adult, with previous iterations having two different actors for the character. She demonstrates a distinct difference between the ages through her posture and voice work.
Little Women is filled to the brim with many other contributions by actors with Timothée Chalamet’s Laurie and the sophisticated yet rugged characteristics he employs with the character. His chemistry with Saoirse Ronan is out of control and the work they do together as Jo and Laurie exceeded expectations. Chris Cooper as Laurie’s grandfather delivers one of the strongest emotional moments and conveys it with as little as a look and it pierced my heart. Oh, and Meryl Streep plays the Aunt March, whose only focus lies on getting one of the March sisters “married well” as she would describe it. A harsh but also a comedic role. Every supporting character added substance to the story and the way this film juggles all of those characters and gives them something worth doing is beyond remarkable.
For me, no filmmaker had higher expectations for their sophomore debut than Greta Gerwig. I felt there would be no chance that she could make anything as well-crafted as Lady Bird, but once again she demonstrates that she will rise and be one of the best directors in the industry. I will never have an inkling of doubt for whatever project she takes on next because, as this film demonstrates, she can add her own flair and style to any story. Little Women gives everything this story could say and added even more to it. The narrative decisions in the film all come together perfectly and with a jaw-dropping and resolute ending that recontextualizes moments throughout the film. Everything about this film came stitched together with care and allows us to join in the love and friendship of these sisters.