Late 2019 saw the release of Greta Gerwig’s screen adaptation of literary classic Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott. Little Women is the story of a family living in America during the time of the Civil War. Four sisters, Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth, and their mother live in difficult financial times, as the women of the house grow up to find their respective ways in the world. The film stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet and Laura Dern among others, and is written for the screen and directed by Greta Gerwig.
I should say that at time of writing I haven’t had the pleasure of reading the book, which makes my understanding of the story, as it ought to, less deep as compared to those who have. This review does not compare the film to the book, nor does it take it into account, my not having read it.
Which is, it would transpire, entirely my loss. Little Women is a simply excellent film, simultaneously telling a story that is both thoroughly interesting as well as having heaps of literary value. The writing is beautiful, which I suppose I could not realistically accredit to either Alcott or Gerwig without first comparing it to its source material, and is complemented by a style and rhythm of storytelling that keeps its audience engaged, without exception, through the entire film. The pacing is a bit confusing, actually, because while it is as entertaining as it is (assuming an interest in the circumstance, if you’re not into period pieces and a lack of explosions then the entertainment factor won’t be there), it most certainly feels like a much longer film than it is. Clocking at just over 2 hours and 15 minutes makes it a hardly above average film in length, but the way Gerwig has woven the piece together makes the experience feel much longer. I personally never found myself bored, though it must be said that this sensation could just as easily be construed as drag if this kind of film isn’t your cup of tea.
The performances could not be described as special in their capacity as actors, with the possible exception of Ronan as Jo and Dern as Mother. Rather, the film is cast extremely well, insofar as I understood the characters. The characters themselves were delightfully likeable, and conveyed a fascinating study of different definitions of success and ambition in women, far ahead of its time. Jo and Meg are two sides of the same coin in a way, Jo the adventurous and conventionally ambitious writer and Meg the woman who dreams of a family. Meg might’ve been the least elaborated upon of the four, save for a scene just before her wedding where she defended her heteronormativity, something that I found perfectly valid, right alongside Jo’s own defence. They were by far the two most interesting characters by my book; one who wanted a career and to accomplish things for herself, and one who wanted to be in love and who wanted a family, and that’s okay too. Those are two really interesting ideas to juxtapose, which they’ve done very well. My understanding is that Amy’s character is not historically liked, which is understandable, but even she gets her moment of defence to Laurie later in the film. Beth was perhaps the weakest casting, but one of the stronger performances despite not an incredible amount to do. Chalamet as Laurie was another perfect casting, with an irritatingly irresistible likability to him. Likability was a theme across the board in this film (with the only possible exception of Amy). It was a much funnier film than I ever saw coming, very tastefully so, in a way that kept it relatively light hearted without dropping the stakes of the story. The tone is familial, constantly, which was an intimate closeness that I just couldn’t help but smile at.
Plot-wise, there were some slight issues. The French guy was somewhat random, I’d say, and his relationship with Jo really ought to have been developed further. Chalamet and Ronan’s dynamic as Jo and Laurie was sold much more, and, while I’m not suggesting that there should have been an equivalent amount of time given to a fundamentally less important part of the story, a little more could’ve been done to sell their relationship. Beth could’ve been explored slightly more, but the job is done sufficiently if you ask me. Amy’s love for Laurie goes a little underdeveloped as well, though the chemistry was there for certain. A few more hints of her love at a younger age might’ve been welcome. I really do wish they’d given more insight into Meg. Not instead of Jo, crucially, but in tandem with. Her husband, for example, is in the film but not explained as a character. I’d have liked to see more of that.
Little Women was a fantastic film, one of the best of the year. It had a lot more to say than most other period pieces that have become household names. It was more interesting, in my opinion, as compared to a film like Pride and Prejudice, which, a good film in its own right, is in the end, a love story. Little Women is that and much more, and I have every intention of reading the book at the earliest possibility. In the meantime, I’d give my strongest recommendation to Gerwig’s adaptation, as a fun, entertaining, and stimulating film.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – 84/100 Aryamaan’s Score –