Review- Little Women
‘Women, they have minds and they have souls as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition and they’ve got talent as well as such beauty’ Jo March, Little Women
If there’s one thing that Little Women (2019) does, is illustrate the above statement perfectly, striking a perfect balance between matters of the heart and the gender politics of civil-war America. The latest in a long line of adaptions of Louisa May Alcott’s most celebrated novel, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, the film in both its characters and the message finally does justice to the female artist. Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlan share the screen as the infamous March sisters and bring to life in brilliant colour each of their stories, as heartwarming and relevant as they were when the novel was first published.
Watson plays the theatrical yet maternal Meg with all the sweetness that befits her character, this is especially true as we follow her in her beautiful pink dress through her first debutante ball. Florence Pugh’s tumultuous performance of Amy will have audiences laughing and crying in equal measure as we see her grow from a hot-tempered child into a well rounded young artist. Eliza Scanlan provides a gentle wave of calm in the sea of strong personalities though her character provides the biggest heartbreak of the whole film.
Though all four women do a beautiful job in their respective roles, no star burns brighter than Ronan as Jo March, delivering a captivating and realistic performance of a young woman who not only wants to do right by her family but by herself. Jo is caught between the woman the world is telling her to be and the self-reliant woman writer she desires more than anything to be. From her very first moments onscreen with her inky fingerprints taking her novel to publisher Mr Dashwood (Tracy Letts) we are completely and utterly enthralled in her story. As Aunt March, Meryl Streep’s harsh but charming performance brings comic relief to what can in some parts be a heartbreaking story. Her views on marriage and her repeated detestation of the ways in which the March sisters live their lives are especially amusing.
In addition to Aunt March, the sisterly but none the less brutal fights between Amy and Jo provide comedic but emotional scenes that anyone with a sibling can immediately understand. Watching how this close-knit family interact with and affect the world around them is an absolute joy to witness. Their wealthy neighbours, Mr Laurence (Chris Cooper) and his grandson Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) are swept up along with the sisters' adventures, with a love triangle developing between Jo, Laurie and Amy, and Beth and Mr Lawrence finding an unlikely but adorable friendship in each other.
Even those less fortunate than the March sisters are touched by their kindness as the family give up their Christmas breakfast to feed a poor starving family. Laura Dern embodies the character of Marmie with gentleness and warmth, having a clear effect on each of her daughters but teaching them all to love one another and always be kind to others.
While taking a non-linear approach to the story, it is clear that Gerwig approaches the source material with clear admiration and respect, with much of the dialogue taken directly from Alcott’s novel. The film also does a fantastic job of standing on its own two feet as a refreshing and innovative take on the story. The intercuts of past and present that may at first confuse the viewer, highlight just how closely linked the scenes/moments are in the shaping of the characters. We see the women in their childhood, playing and arguing and longing for the various things they desire in adulthood. As they grow we watch them journey far away from home, meet new and exciting people, and learn what love and heartache truly means. The effects of weddings immediately following funerals and angry exchanges preceded by loving gazes, demonstrates how the most tragic parts of life are followed by the most beautiful and that neither are ever too far away from each other. Every inch of this film helps bring Alcott’s world to life. From the score, composed by Alexandre Desplat (Shape of Water) perfectly befitting the energetic and extravagant nature of the story and its characters; to the wonderfully colourful costumes designed by Jaqueline Durran and set design by Claire Kaufman who makes the story come to life in a such a tangible way that the audience can almost touch it.
With an impressive 135 minutes running time, Gerwig, with tremendous style illustrates the March sisters’ growth from young girls to grown women with all the sweetness and sorrow befitting Alcott’s most famous creation. Beautifully acted and thoughtfully directed, Little Women is a must-see for any film fan young and old.