Little Women

  • 11 Jan - 17 Jan, 2020
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

There’s nothing little about Greta Gerwig’s rich, warm, bustlingly populated and passionately devoted new tribute to Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel of sisterhood. She revives Little Women as a coming-of-age movie, a marriage comedy, a sibling-rivalry drama – and perhaps most interestingly of all, an autofictional manifesto for writing your own life. This is where fledgling author Jo March must negotiate her terms directly with her mutton-chop whiskered publisher (no agent!). She must enforce her own copyright prerogative. She must decide, having created a heroine so clearly based on herself, if a wedding is the only plausible ending to her story, which gives her a commercial bestseller and a materially comfortable life.

Saoirse Ronan plays the fiercely opinionated and boundlessly energetic Jo, one of four teenage sisters increasingly faced with genteel poverty in 19th-century Massachusetts, their father (Bob Odenkirk) away serving the north’s cause in the civil war. Thoughtful Meg is played by Emma Watson, Florence Pugh is pugnacious, hot-headed Amy, and Eliza Scanlen the delicate, gentle Beth. Their mother, Marmie, is played with style and easy authority by Laura Dern, and the casting brings into view a slight facial resemblance between Dern and Ronan. James Norton plays John Brooke, the diffident, penniless tutor who is to capture Meg’s heart; and Professor Friedrich Bhaer, the middle-aged German academic who is to be Jo’s fatherly suitor-slash-mentor in New York, is reinvented as a considerably younger and dishier Frenchman played by Louis Garrel.

As for the two most legendary characters: cantankerous and wealthy Aunt March (this story’s equivalent of Betsey Trotwood) is played by Meryl Streep. The handsome boy next door Laurie is probably in love with all four of the March girls, and this film shows how they collectively have feelings for him, combining sisterly protectiveness, intense crush, exasperated disdain and One-Directional fan worship. Laurie is played by Timothée Chalamet.

Gerwig’s treatment of the story has the March girls being played by the same four actors (not splitting them into younger and older versions as is sometimes the case) and structures the story into a mesh of flashbacks, intercutting their girlish episodes at home with their later lives as young women: Jo as the writer in New York, Meg married to John, Amy on a European tour with the formidable aunt who hopes thereby to school her in the reality of the marriage market, and Beth at home where she will meet her own awful fate.

This is such a beguiling, generous film from Gerwig. There is a lot of love in it.