“Little Women” is a masterclass in adaptation. Though I wasn’t over the moon about “Lady Bird” (it wasn’t really a story for me), “Little Women” surprised me with how deep it touched me emotionally. I haven’t read the book, and after watching Gerwig’s version, I feel like I almost don’t need to. She makes me want to, though. The source material is very close to Gerwig’s heart, and “Little Women” is clearly one of those great stories that transcends time. Though this is the fifth cinematic adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic story, it should be considered the definitive one. I’m not sure how anyone could do better than this.
“Little Women” is, in my point of view, a great ensemble picture, meaning that its whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The work in front of and behind the camera is spectacular – everyone involved in this production has made a genuinely wonderful and timeless film. Saoirse Ronan, who I believe is the next Meryl Streep, gives her best performance to date as Jo. A free spirit who longs to be independent yet loved, I felt a lot of commonality between her and myself. She struggles with an inner conflict that many women still face today, feeling that she cannot achieve the things she wants in her career and life and simultaneously be involved in a relationship. Her ambitions lead her to great success, but she can never escape her feelings of loneliness.
Florence Pugh turns in an outstanding performance as Amy, who aspires to be a great artist. She and Jo are similar in their aspirations to hold careers in the arts (Jo wants to be a writer), but Amy is a bit vindictive in nature. Feeling as though she is second favorite in the family to Jo, she is driven to perform questionable actions towards her sister, and many of her actions in general seem to come more out of spite than spontaneity. Emma Watson, whom I dearly adore, is fantastic as Meg. Though she also holds career aspirations, her selfless love for her husband and family ultimately takes precedence. She has a wonderful older sister quality to her.
The other performances in the film are also top-notch. Timothee Chalamet is outstanding as Teddy, who is the object of affection from many of the girls. Eliza Scanlen is great as the lovably quiet and musically talented Beth. Laura Dern gives a better supporting performance here as Marmee than she does in “Marriage Story.” Her compassion to help those in need is inspiring and touching. Gerwig has done a fantastic job in making me care about all of the characters and making me feel as if I have known them my whole life. I think we can find a part of ourselves in all of the characters in “Little Women,” regardless of gender or age.
The cinematography in “Little Women” is immaculate. The film has some of the most beautiful shots I’ve seen all year. The sets have been brilliantly created, and scenes have been staged with clear purpose. There isn’t a moment of waste in “Little Women.” The editing is questionable at times, and may work better for people who are already familiar with the story. Gerwig jumps around in the timeline, and though there are some visual juxtapositions that really hit home, there were some points in the film where I felt lost. The actors are made up to look younger in particular scenes, but it’s not always obvious. On future rewatches, it probably won’t be a problem, and the experimentation with the timeline actually helps to create a nostalgic aspect to the story and prevents it from feeling too plotty or literal.
Another freedom that Gerwig takes with her adaptation is crafting what seems like two different endings for her film, one of which is true to the book, and the other of which is true to the book’s author. Whichever you choose will help to make the film more personal for you. It’s truly a wonderful experience. Sadly, I was the only man in my theatre watching it.