Little Women has been adapted and re-adapted many times over the years ranging from the 1933 version with Katharine Hepburn to the 1994 version with Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon. While most adaptations have been praised, I don’t think anyone will doubt that Lady Bird’s writer/director Greta Gerwig has crafted the version to end all versions.
This remake stays true to the spirit of others: The four March sisters, Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) live in Concord, Massachusetts in the aftermath of the Civil War. Their father had gone off to fight in the War and now they’re struggling to make ends meet.
Jo is an independent individual with aspirations of becoming a writer. She believes that a woman’s purpose in society reaches far beyond the confines of marriage and motherhood. “Marriage is an economic proposition,” she declares at one point.
Meanwhile, Meg and Amy do want to settle down and attempt to convince Jo that she should do the same. Timothee Chamalet plays Laurie, the suitor who is desperately trying to win Jo’s affections.
In addition to these sublime performances, we also get the likes of Laura Dern as Marmie, the girls’ mother who wants her daughters to grow up to follow their hearts, Meryl Streep as their feisty unmarried Aunt (“It’s because I’m rich,” why she says she’s never taken holy matrimony) and Chris Cooper as Laurie’s father who becomes generous to the family in their times of need.
Gerwig’s treatment of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel does stay true to the underlying material, but it also includes theme that are timely and relevant to today. There is an aspect of rising feminism particularly on the part of Jo by wanting to be on her own without a family and be her own person, but it’s done in such a context that Alcott would be happily pleased.
The look and feel of this movie is absolutely breathtaking. It’s a complete triumph of immaculate cinematography, gorgeous production and costume design that really feels like Alcott’s novel has left off the page.
The technical elements definitely deserve their praise, but the real praise go to these four extraordinary women acting their hearts out on screen. Ronan, Watson, Pugh, and Scanlen inject their roles with energy, passion, and spirit. They feel like they’re in love with the material every second they’re on screen which thankfully is quite often.
The movie is 2 hours and 15 minutes long, but given the amount of care and reverence the cast and crew have to the source material, it could’ve gone on for 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Right now, I’m having a vision of my 10 best list of 2019. At #5, I’m seeing this remarkable achievement.
Rated PG for thematic elements and brief smoking.
Hall is a syndicated movie critic in South Georgia.