We’re at the end of the year, but there’s just a couple of new cinema releases still to get through: and the one I think that is most deserving of your time is by far, Little Women.
This is a new adaptation of the classic 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott; telling the story of four sisters coming of age in a post-Civil War America. It was a semi-autobiographical novel, that has become a beloved story by people all over the world in the hundred and fifty years’ since it’s release; and has been adapted numerous times on the screen – most famously, in the Winona Ryder starring film of 1994.
This incarnation is written and directed by Greta Gerwig, following her 2017 success Lady Bird; and stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Timotheé Chalamet, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep as an incredible ensemble cast.
I am often against sequels, reboots and remakes, as far too often they feel only like a way to make money lacking the passion or care for the original. Little Women does not feel like that. Every inch of this story is tended to with such a great love and care that this adaptation only elevates the story. It feels truer.
It is written as a very clever redefinition of the original. It captures the spirit of the March sisters clearer than any other adaption has for me, and feels more relatable for it. The characters are real, tangible people that you can see yourself and maybe even your family in; and not because they’ve been updated for the modern cinema but for the opposite reason. These characters have purposely not been updated, they have been expanded on to create real, multi-faceted women that any viewer can recognise in today’s world.
This quote from @joynessthebrave on twitter really summed it up for me:
“Characters weren’t contorted into modern ideals, but it still spoke profoundly to the complications of living today because it was a human story”
It is directed beautifully, and I have no doubts that Gerwig deserves nominations for this. She has clearer overseen this film with tender loving care and it shows from every angle.
The cast is sensational, truly. I can think of few adaptations so perfectly cast in this decade.
Saoirse Ronan plays Jo as real and un-stereotyped, not just the fiesty fiery Jo she could easily be played as. Yes, she doesn’t want to marry, play the perfect housewife or abide to female stereotypes, but she does cry about having her hair cut. She is opposed to the idea of marriage being her only goal, yet she feels lonely. Jo has long been seen as the anti-woman, the tomboy who strives to be anything but a woman but in fact she’s the perfect representation of what a woman is: a multitude of things. Ronan knows that, and embodies it in the whole character in one cohesive performance. She is a joy to watch.
Emma Watson is a very endearing, perfect Meg. As the oldest sister and the oldest actress, she carries a little more maturity on her shoulders, which is the first time I’ve seen it in the infamous child star. Playing Meg also marks the first time Watson has played a mother, and it felt a whole lot more natural than I would have expected it to, she carries the role with such grace and a little poise. The only hiccup is her sometimes faltering accent, though her physicality really impressed me here enough to compensate for it.
Florence Pugh proves yet again that she is the most promising young actor of our time. Amy, to me is the most difficult character to play, as she goes through such emotional growth in the story that sees her transform from a bratty teenager to a somewhat wise young adult. Pugh plays both, and the transition in between, astonishingly well. If anyone knows how I can become best friends with her, please let me know.
The final sister of the cast is Eliza Scanlen as Beth. She’s the lesser known star of the whole cast, known mostly for her role in the critically acclaimed Sharp Objects television series of earlier this year; and yet holds her own amongst the established cast so well that once the film has started she’s indistinguishable from them. She has a very promising career ahead of her.
Timotheé Chalamet is the most perfect Laurie, that I cannot believe I never saw it coming before he was cast. He just is Laurie – I have no words to describe it. I truly believe that Chalamet is one of the most talented actors of our generation but I do not know how he can top this role (but I’m sure he’ll prove me wrong in no time at all).
Marmee in this retelling is played by the ever wonderful Laura Dern. I would say that this Marmee, though overtly caring and loving, is a little more passive at raising her girls. That’s neither a good nor bad thing, just an interesting take that I would love to hear more on – if you have any thoughts on this please leave a comment or give me a tweet.
Meryl Streep clearly just has a lot of fun. She’s not a huge character in the film, and I’m glad that Gerwig didn’t scarify the integrity of the role by including Aunt March more just because of the huge name playing her, because it means she doesn’t steal a lick of the limelight.
The supporting cast is made up of Chris Cooper, Bob Odenkirk, Louis Garrel, James Norton, and Jayne Houdyshell as Hannah, who all, again, melt into their roles with ease.
The story is not told in a linear fashion, instead it jumps between the start and the end of the original novel with ease and weaves a new narrative together from it.It’s not perfect; once or twice it did throw me off; but for the most part I believe it was it was the most effective and clever way of doing this: from the start it shows that this isn’t going to be a straight retelling, and that this adaptation has it’s own purpose. We’ve also all known this story for 150 years, so there’s no need to go through it the same again – this makes it feel reborn almost.
It is a genuine joy to watch, because every scene has such life to it. The moments that are most gleeful to watch are those with all the sisters; their speech overlapping, personalities clashing and spirits bouncing off of each other. It feels so real, and to watch it feels to be welcomed into the March’s home. That, and the playful relationship between Jo and Laurie is an absolute delight to watch. It’s hidden in every scene, and feels so genuine – Gerwig must have done so much work with the actors to create such a convincing sense of unity that translates to the screen.
This Little Women is ever so slightly reimagined, so there are a few alterations. It’s basically told as Gerwig believed Louisa May Alcott wanted, but had to compromise on to get it published and seen, with the romance taking the supporting role. The March family and their friendships is the true lead here, as it was always intended to be. It’s telling that it’s taken one hundred and fifty years to get here.
This telling also leans more heavily on the frustrations of women of the time, and it’s not just Jo that voices them. Jo has long been the sole representation for desiring more than what women were able to access at the time, with all the other character’s pretty much falling into place in society quite happily. Here, each female character shows the weight in different ways, that become more and more evident as the film goes on and I love it for it. Women’s liberation is no new topic, and it’s empowering to see it portrayed so frankly and truthfully.
The film also looks stunning visually. It’s shot in a 1.85 aspect ratio which makes it feel almost like home video footage, and the colouring and cinematography contrasts between warm and cosy and cold and vulnerable according to the time period and mood. It’s beautiful – and the costumes and hair are too. Each sister has such a distinct yet period appropriate style, that changes as they grow older yet retains their character. I want every dress and every wig, please and thank you.
I feel like my soul was fed watching this film. It really, honestly touched me. It’s a story of sisterhood and life struggles that transcends time, that I, a century and a half on, can relate to. Please, go and see this film, and see it with your mothers, sisters and female friends. It will mean so much.
Little Women is Greta Gerwig’s best work to date. I am so impressed.
Little Women is in cinemas now