For her sophomore directing gig Greta Gerwig took an enormous gamble by putting her spin on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel LIttle Women that has been universally beloved for the past 150 years since it was first published. Happily this adaption/reinterpretation is a sheer delight that not only will Miss Alcott’s loyal fans love, but it will also show others why this tale of the four March sisters has always been held in such high regard.
In the past the novel has been read as a romance or as a quest, or both. It has been read as a family drama that validates virtue over wealth, but Gerwig has opted for the interpretation of it being a means of escaping that life by women who knew its gender constraints only too well. This is now unquestionably a real feminist tale.
You will need to focus carefully as Gerwig rapidly jumps back and forth with her storyline without a hint of warning. She starts with Jo (Saoirse Ronan) already living independently in a New York boarding house, writing short stories and sending money home to her family from her tutoring jobs. She has been trying to pass her writing off as that of ‘a friend’ and although Mr Dashwood (Tracy Letts) her publisher doesn’t believe this, he goes along with the pretence. He is also eager to shell out advice that if ‘her friend’ intends to write more stories with a female protagonist, to make sure she’s married by the end. “Or dead. Either way.”
Gerwig lets slip that Jo has already rejected the marriage proposal from Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) the grandson of her family’s wealthy neighbour back in Massachusetts, even though we have yet to witness that scene ourselves.
Meanwhile Jo’s younger sister Amy (Florence Pugh) who’s main resolve in life is to marry a wealthy man, is now passing time studying painting in Paris. She’s there as a companion to her wealthy Aunt March (Meryl Streep) who puts on an act as a cantankerous old snobby lady imperiously taking charge of everyone’s lives, but underneath she has a great deal of affection for all her nieces. She also has some of the best lines to deliver …..like “I am not always right, but I am NEVER EVER wrong!”
Amy has her eyes set on Fred Vaughan (Dash Barber) a wealthy and generous Brit suitor, but then is shocked to realise that in truth she actually has a thing for Jo’s old beau Laurie.
While this has all been going on the eldest sister Meg (Emma Watson), is already married and living in a cottage on very modest means with her schoolteacher husband John Brooke (James Norton) who was Laurie’s former tutor. They are equally happy and poor.
Jo the ardent feminist, may be the middle sibling but with the father away at the Civil War, she is the one that helps steer her adoring mother (Laura Dern) in helping the family survive and flourish When tragedy strikes within the family (and Alcott readers will know what that is), it is Jo who is the glue that keeps the family together and stops them falling apart.
It’s at the NY Boarding House that Gerwig gives us a hint that Jo may change her fiercely held views on remaining independent when she first encounters a fellow boarder the handsome Professor Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel). However when he becomes the first person to ever criticise Jo’s writing, it seems like this meeting may be doomed from the very start.
There is so much to see, hear and draw you in to this delightfully entertaining movie that so rightly gets released on Christmas Day. Gerwig being reunited with Ronan makes such perfect sense as she mixes Jo’s forthrightness with just the right amount of vulnerability in a performance that will undoubtedly earn her a 4th Academy Award Best Actress Nomination.
This movie had such wonderfully completely rounded roles for women that we are rewarded with such pitch perfect performances including the scene-stealing Streep, the beautiful Pugh, Dern as the mother we would all want, and Watson showing that there is real life for her away from Harry Potter.
Women’s film or not, the camera proved once again how much it loves Chalamet . He too also starred in Gerwig’s Lady Bird, but this time he was so much more at ease as Laurie, a role that it seems he really was destined to play.
It would also be a great injustice if the production design, cinematography, soundtrack and Jacqueline Durran wonderful costumes were not recognised during the Award Season
Whether Gerwig herself followed Mr Dash’s advice on how to finish her story is up to you to discover, but you’ll really enjoy every minute of the 2 1/2 hours waiting to find out.