'Little Women': Nothing little about this big film with a huge heart

  • Movie Review
  • Wednesday, 12 Feb 2020

Life's a beach when you look this good. The March sisters Meg (Emma Watson), Beth (Eliza Scanlan), Jo (Saoirse Ronan) and Amy (Florence Pugh) show why baskets are the new must have fashion accessory.

Little Women
Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Meryl Streep

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. You might recognize these as the names of the heroines of Louisa M. Alcott's beloved novel Little Women. Since it was first written in 1868, this novel has delighted countless readers, particularly girls, with its strong, well-drawn characters and themes of love and independence.

Little Women is such a beloved story that it has been adapted for the cinema, stage and television many times. This latest effort, directed by Greta Gerwig, is the seventh time it has become a film! Do we really need another adaptation? Could there possibly be any more to be discover from yet another version of this story?

The answer is a resounding yes. Gerwig's Little Women is quite a triumph. Charming, moving and even profound at times, her film stays true to the original classic, while simultaneously updating it for today's sensitivities. Bolstered with great acting performances, lovely costumes and sets, and a moving score, this movie will entertain not just little women, but viewers of every gender and size.

Little Women is the tale of the four March sisters, who live in poor conditions under the watchful eye of their kind mother, Marmee. Eldest sister Meg (Emma Watson) is sweet with an eye for beauty, Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is tomboyish and wants to be a writer, Beth (Eliza Scanlan) is selfless and pure, and Amy (Florence Pugh) has a mischievous side.

Jo (top, Saiorse Ronan), Meg (bottom left, Emma Watson) and Amy (Florence Pugh) acting in one of Jo's plays.Jo (top, Saiorse Ronan), Meg (bottom left, Emma Watson) and Amy (Florence Pugh) acting in one of Jo's plays.

Unlike the novel, the film Little Women does not unfold in chronological order. It begins with the March sisters already adults: Jo, the film's unofficial protagonist, is struggling to publish her stories in New York, when she is summoned home on an emergency. As she travels, she looks back on her childhood and her time with her sisters, as well as her relationship with her neighbor, Laurie (Timothee Chalamet).

Much of the film is told in flashbacks. Thankfully, Gerwig frames her story well, and it is never too difficult to tell the present and past apart. This unconventional approach actually works well, introducing us to the characters and their problems almost immediately without much need for buildup.

Little Women unfolds as a very slice-of-life film: don't expect explosions or carriage chases. This film is devoted to the beauty of domestic life, and the joys of family and sisterhood. It does this very well, and some scenes are very moving: bring a packet of tissues. The script adds elements of female empowerment and equality to the story: these are executed very naturally, and never feel out of place in the film's 19th century setting.

Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) and Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) compare who can rock an old fashioned coat better.Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) and Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) compare who can rock an old fashioned coat better.

Gerwig's film has a fantastic cast, all of whom do brilliantly. Jo March is one of the most beloved characters in literature, and Ronan does an amazing in bringing this headstrong-yet-lovable character to life. The actresses playing the March sisters have fantastic chemistry, and scenes where they interact are always fun to watch. The supporting cast is also good. Chalamet is charming as Laurie, a love interest to the sisters, while Laura Dern puts in a strong yet restrained turn as Marmee. Meryl Streep also steals scenes as the judgmental Auntie March: well, she is Meryl Streep, so no surprises here.

All in all, a very solid film, with a lot that works. One particular highlight is the ending, which addresses directly one of the most controversial parts of Alcott's novel. Namely, who Jo ends up with. Gerwig creates a very original sequence of events that allows her to stay faithful to the original plot, and have her own way at the same time. This twist is almost too clever for its own good!

All her experience playing Hermione Granger did not come in useful for Emma Watson in this film, as her character Meg is not the keenest reader.All her experience playing Hermione Granger did not come in useful for Emma Watson in this film, as her character Meg is not the keenest reader.

The film has been critically acclaimed, and garnered six well-deserved nominations in this year's Oscars, including Best Picture (it eventually won one, for Best Costume Design). There was some controversy in Gerwig being denied a Best Director nomination: watching this film, one can see why. Gerwig has done an amazing job in bringing Little Women to life, and her not being nominated is really a shame. Particularly since female empowerment is a major theme of her film.

So it looks like Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey have some competition. There's another group of strong, independent women in town, only they're non-violent and look good in 19th century frocks. This latest incarnation of the March sisters just may be the best one yet.

Don't let the title fool you. There's nothing little about Little Women: it's a big film with a huge heart.

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Big film with a huge heart.

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