Since Lady Bird opened to major acclaim, eyes have been fixed on Greta Gerwig’s sophomore feature – the latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, ‘Little Women’.
Some creative works feel generational; whether it’s a new Star Wars trilogy or an updated take on A Star is Born, they’re stories that are recycled and updated every so often for new audiences. In the case of Gerwig’s second directorial endeavour, she tells the story of the March sisters: Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Amy (Florence Pugh), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Meg (Emma Watson), who are all striving towards their goals and struggling with their personal hurdles.
Jo dreams of writing a novel, Amy longs for the continental art scene as she pursues her dream of becoming a great artist, Meg is focused on creating her own family, while Beth longs for their days of reckless youth. Jumping between this time and seven years prior, we come to know the sisters – their relationships, their quarrels, their affection for next-door neighbour Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) – as though our own kin, journeying with them.
Doing any adaptation justice is difficult, yet more so when the original is a book as iconic and lauded as ‘Little Women’. Odds were stacked against Gerwig from the start, yet her film shines because of the passion exuding out of every frame and line of dialogue. This is clearly a story she knows well – one that probably marked her own youth or adolescence. So well, in fact, that she’s able to play with the structure and themes to give the well-told tale a postmodern feel, while keeping the heart of Alcott’s story intact. It’s a sumptuously crafted piece of work; the decadence of the period is tangible yet it feels well wrought and lived in – stunningly shot and meticulously designed in both production and costume departments. There’s a sincerity and authenticity to the world that feel precious and serve to underline the film’s old-school beauty.
Little Women also thrives thanks to the warm writing and dynamic characters. The sisters’ relationships are alive with a chaotic energy; the scenes when all four are together are easily the film’s best, the undeniable chemistry between members of the cast adding to the fun and believability. Separate from the sisterhood however, each also has their own arc, as Gerwig spends time with each sister to let the audience know them outside of their family dynamics. It’s a testament to Gerwig’s meticulous writing, full of empathy for its protagonists and their struggles, that we are able to find their individuality amidst their relationships.
Likewise, the cast is terrific in their respective roles. Whether it’s Ronan playing up Jo’s tough exterior while letting us peer into her softer side, or Chalamet embracing his spoilt boy next door role, the whole ensemble are pitch perfect; even Laura Dern and Meryl Streep are great in their smaller supporting roles… but it’s Pugh’s Amy that steals the show. She’s so good, in fact, that – at 23 years old – she plays 13-year-old Amy with incredible conviction, nailing the vocal tone and body language you’d expect from someone of that age.
Yet as I’ve said already, Little Women works because everything comes together so seamlessly – all the pieces working in harmony to really make this film the experience it is. It’s warm, touching and will leave you smiling ear to ear. If there were ever any doubts about Gerwig’s filmmaking talent after Lady Bird, this is sure to put them to rest: she is a storyteller of the highest order.
Little Women releases in cinemas December 26th.