Grackles review Little Women
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Reviewed by Colleen Mayo and Kat Moore
Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film adaptation of the classic period novel by Louisa May Alcott follows the coming of age of the March sisters Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Amy (Florence Pugh) while they play, grow, and navigate womanhood in Civil-War era Massachusetts.
Gerwig structures the story differently from the book and previous movie adaptations. Rather than proceed chronologically, the film switches between the novel’s two main timelines: in childhood, the four girls live humbly with their mother Marmee (Laura Dern) while their father serves as a pastor in the Union Army. Next door is their wealthy neighbored Mr. Laurence and his grandson, Theodore “Laurie” Laurence (Timothée Chalamet). In adulthood, the women have spread out. Meg has married and now lives with her husband. Jo lives in a boarding house in New York where she works as a governess, publishes her adventure stories, and develops a deep friendship with the German professor Friedrich Bhaer. Beth struggles with her health at home in Concord MA. Amy is busy painting and pursuing a potential marriage proposal in Paris with the girls’ rich Aunt March, whose itchy stuffiness is played to perfection by Meryl Streep.
Colleen Mayo: Now! I am of the legion of women who grew up cherishing Alcott’s novel. In 7th grade, I auditioned for the role of Jo March in a middle school production of the play (and received a nameless role with two lines and consoled myself by saying I was a writer not an actress, like Jo). I give this disclaimer to say I’m the viewer who is expecting certain iconic scenes. I’ve got nostalgia tangled up in each and every March-sister experience. Jo must burn Meg’s hair. Amy must obsess over having limes at school. Beth must play Mr. Laurence’s piano, and so on. Gerwig’s adaptation not only delivers on these childhood moments, but she gives them with such life and movement that the characters feel at once familiar and new. What a gift! It truly surprised me—I was expecting to like the film but not for it to connect with me as an adult while also reopening my whole eleven-year-old heart. In particular I adore the ensemble scenes, where we get to step back and watch all four little women whoosh and churn across the screen, chortling and chatting and ricocheting off one another. It’s thrilling to watch them have four different conversations at once, each revealing to us their own personalities and also their intricate relationships with one another.
Looking at the girls individually, the top surprise for me was Amy. Florence Pugh’s Amy is delicious: she is theatrical and girlish and silly just as we remember her (she attempts to make a plaster cast of her perfect feet for Laurie). And yet, in adulthood, she is self-possessed and electrifyingly direct. This shift is highlighted by the films’ split timeline, which often juxtaposes the women’s adult circumstances next to key moments from their childhood. Along with Jo, Amy’s character is obviously predestined to make some of the novel’s most significant decisions—that’s how Alcott wrote her, after all—but I’m making my pitch that Florence Pugh delivers the film’s richest performance.
Kat Moore: I have to admit that I never read the book. I know, it’s shocking, especially since I am always shouting about the importance of women’s voices! But as a child, I wasn’t exposed to it, and when the Winona Ryder Little Women came out, I did not enjoy it. I was still all about Winona being weird an edgy, and in my punk rock adolescent, I didn’t get that Jo was weird and edgy. I probably should re-watch that version through the eyes of who I am now. I didn’t want to see Gerwig’s version. I actually rolled my eyes at it, until, I was waiting for another movie to come on and the trailer for Little Women played. The trailer was electric. The dancing between Jo and Laurie, the squeals of the women. I saw the film on Christmas Day and cried my face off. Also, Florence Pugh…another confession, I wasn’t expecting Florence to wow me, but she did. As a young Amy, she is squealy, and loud, and bratty, all the stereotypical adolescent girl traits, the traits that are always deemed too feminine, too obnoxious. I loved all of those traits as portrayed by Florence. I think her performance as Amy is part of why I adored her in this, but I also think it’s because I have come to embrace those feminine traits, like emotions, that get a bad rap. I think film-goers were more open to it too, and that, combined with Gerwig’s direction and Pugh’s performance, really made it resonate. Plus, she grows from a girl into a young woman who understands the world and that, sadly, it isn’t a woman’s place, and therefore, her options are limited. But in the end, she gets what she wants. Love and money. I’m all for women getting what they want.
This brings me back to the structure, which you mentioned. It isn’t linear. The film traverses