A book which has changed the lives of many young girls, films made over the years with wonderful casts…how can you improve on this?
Well, Greta Gerwig has directed a minor masterpiece here. Her interpretation of Little Women is told from a feminist viewpoint. Not using a linear approach, Gerwig starts near the end and moves back and forwards to show different parts of the lives of the four March sisters and their mother living in 1800s in Massachusetts, New England.
In flashback we get to know the sisters. The main focus of our attention is on Jo (wonderfully played by Saoirse Ronan), who is completely focused on a future career as a writer; then there is practical Meg (an unusually subdued Emma Watson); proud pretty Amy (Florence Pugh) and sickly Beth (Eliza Scanlen). All are under the wing of Marmee (Laura Dern) a mother that all girls would wish for. She struggles to bring up her daughters alone while her husband is fighting in the Civil War. We see various incidents from their lives often showing up Jo as impetuous and Amy as petulant and somewhat spoiled while poor Beth suffers from illness but a beautifully generous heart. The girls, along with all young women around them, are encouraged to marry wealthy husbands, but Meg falls for a poor teacher and devotes her life to him and then to her children while Jo vows never to marry. Their aunt, Aunt March (Meryl Streep) wants this for Jo, who insists that she just wants to be a famous writer. Laurie (Timothee Chalamet), the boy next door is very attracted to Jo, but Amy is secretly in love with him.
Jo moves to New York, which is where the film begins. We see her meeting Professor Bhaaer (Louis Garrel). And then the timeline goes back to earlier days. While I generally prefer a movie to start at the beginning and work its way through the story until it gets to the end, I can see a lot of merit in the way that Greta Gerwig has approached the subject matter. It all makes sense and we can follow what is taking place and when very easily.
While giving us a modern, feminist slant on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Gerwig has kept the very essence of the book – the importance of family and home. She adds to this by interpreting the lives of the girls as moving not just toward independence for women, but also finding and doing what each young woman really wants in order to feel fulfilled. Only Beth, the youngest, wants to remain the same – to stay at home and play the piano.
Along with most competent direction by Gerwig (who gave us the excellent Lady Bird which also focused on mother/daughter relationships and female friends), the film has beautiful production qualities, so that the accompanying music, costumes and great cinematography (from Yorick Le Saux) help to give the film a feeling of the times.
And, of course, the performances are just right From Meryl Streep’s tiny but exactly right Aunt to Florence Pugh as Amy – showing more than a difficult young girl in Gerwig;’s version – we see her as a rounded person. There is a different side to Emma Watson on view here; Meg is down to earth and a homebody who marries for love. Saoirse Ronan once again shows what a competent performer she is. Her Jo has the right mix of being a tomboy and sensitivity so that we can completely believe in her character as a budding author. And there is a nice tender Marmee from the always reliable Laura Dern.
The film should get awards for the director and some of the actors.
Little Women comes to Digital on May 11th and Blue-Ray and DVD May 25th.