Little Women remake awes audiences

Alice Webster, Student editor

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In the over 150 years since its original publication, beloved classic Little Women has been adapted for the big screen multiple times. The story of four sisters growing up in Concord during the Civil War captivated audiences both male and female when its first half debuted in 1868 with its realistic portrait of youth. The most recent iteration, written and directed by Greta Gerwig of Lady Bird fame, is perhaps the most artful and faithful portrayal of the book that has inspired so many young women for centuries.

In her directorial debut, Greta Gerwig proved she knew how to realistically depict female adolescence on screen. She further demonstrates her skill in Little Women, in which each March sister is, for the first time in any adaptation, treated as equally valid and interesting. Particularly stunning is Florence Pugh’s portrayal of Amy, the youngest and most unfairly hated March sister due to an episode in her youth. Often depicted as a one-dimensional brat, Pugh and Gerwig fully understand and explore the intricacies of her character, from her artistry to her practicality, which is shown most in her desire for a rich husband who could support her poor family. Saoirse Ronan does an equally fantastic job with Jo, the most central of the sisters modeled off of the author, Louisa May Alcott. Ronan perfectly balances Jo’s love of writing, her tomboyishness, and her intense devotion to her family. Unlike in many other iterations, Jo’s faults are on full display, and her way of living is not made out to be any better than those of her sisters. Instead of making her completely modern, she is a realistic woman out of place in Victorian society for her intrinsic qualities rather than because she spouts modern “girl power” quips. Beth, played by newcomer Eliza Scanlen of Sharp Objects fame, is also more realistic than in the past. Rather than being a living angel, Beth is painfully shy but overcomes her desire to simply stay at home when her morals and passion for music push her. The eldest sister, Meg, played by Emma Watson, struggles with her desire for finery and contrasts Jo with her desire to make a family. Watson’s portrayal is the weakest of the four, with her British accent slipping in in places, but she still does a fine job. Each sister’s journey is treated with equal importance, and even modern women can find something in them to relate to. 

The supporting cast is also commendable. Rising star Timothée Chalamet perfectly portrayed neighbor Laurie Laurence’s desire for a familial connection and adoration for the Marches. In fact, all of the male supporting cast seems to be, in one way or another, enamored with the family’s dynamic, which Gerwig excellently showcases. Mr. Laurence’s relationship with Beth is particularly tear-jerking, and Chris Cooper excellently shows both his rather rough exterior and his inner softness. Although he is absent from the first half of the film due to being away at war, Mr. March, played by Bob Odenkirk, is given more personality than his book counterpart by drawing inspiration from Louisa May Alcott’s father Bronson, a radical transcendentalist who befriended the likes of Emerson and Thoreau. Perhaps the most glaring change from the novel is making Professor Bhaer, one of Jo’s fellow boarding house residents played by Louis Garrel, French rather than German, possibly to make him seem more romantic. His portrayal also differs from the book’s due to his age, which in Gerwig’s movie is close to Jo’s, and his objective attractiveness. Although he’s more of a hunk than a teddy bear, Garrel’s Bhaer is still awkward, intellectual, and sweet. Meg’s beau Mr. Brooke, conversely, is largely the same as his book counterpart, and James Norton conveys his smittenness and awkwardness perfectly.

Furthermore, Gerwig’s directing makes the film different than any previous adaptation. Rather than telling the story linearly as in the book, Gerwig begins with the sisters as adults and inserts flashbacks to childhood. The adulthood scenes are tinted blue while the childhood scenes have the warm glow of nostalgia. Gerwig also uses her unconventional timeline to draw parallels from the first half of the novel to the second, resulting sometimes in hilarity and others in tears. The most revolutionary change Gerwig makes is to the end of the film, juxtaposing two present day scenes in such a way that leaves Jo’s fate open to interpretation. This is likely drawn from Louisa May Alcott’s desires for Jo, which she recorded in letters and diary entries and was entreated to change by the public and her publishers.

Overall, Gerwig’s Little Women is a delight for both fans of the book and newcomers to the story. The film has sparked a revival of mainstream appreciation for the novel, although girls and women have consistently devoured it since its creation. The film’s performances, cinematography, and writing make it a must see.