Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is arguably the most read novel by a female writer in American literature since 1868 and has a boatload screen adaptations.
There are three acclaimed films dating to 1933, 1949 and 1994, starring Katharine Hepburn, June Allyson and Winona Ryder; a mediocre mini-series from 1978 with Susan Dey; and another mini-series from 2017 featuring Maya Hawke. And that’s not even counting the numerous stage and radio adaptations in the past century as well.
It feels redundant to write a synopsis of Alcott’s story, but here’s one for the very few who are unfamiliar. In post-Civil War Massachusetts, the March sisters and their mother, Marmee (Laura Dern), get by while their father is a chaplain for the Union Army. The four sisters are writer Jo (Saoirse Ronan), artist Amy (Florence Pugh), pianist Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Meg (Emma Watson), the oldest and most domestic of the group, marrying quickly into adulthood.
Throughout a decade-long period, we see the girls grow into women and struggle with their relationships with each other, and the beaus in their lives like next-door neighbor “Laurie” Lawrence (Timothee Chalamet), tutor John Brooke (James Norton) and college professor Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel).
A couple things crossed my mind as soon as I finished viewing Gerwig’s Women. First is that it’s hard to believe Ronan was two years older during filming than Ryder was in Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 adaptation. The talented young actress has now fully graduated from child stardom to A-lister, and hasn’t lost any of her zeal for the camera. Second is that Garrel, cast as Professor Bhaer, is the first time I’ve fully seen the appeal of that role, and it’s almost a shame Gerwig chose to just use him as a deus-ex-machina rather than an actual character.
The fresh elements to this Little Women are bound to be polarizing. Gerwig chose to direct the story in a non-linear style, which to those who haven’t seen or read the previous versions, might be a little confusing.
The ending will definitely divide some fans as not only is the final scene completely different than the one we’re all used to, but it’s also very meta. It also takes a while to get into the very modern sounding delivery of the dialogue from the cast, especially Pugh’s portrayal.
But at the end of the day, it’s still Little Women. And if you’ve loved these characters this long, you might appreciate Gerwig taking a more personal interpretation of Alcott’s story. If anything, we get one of the least awkward interpretations of the Amy/Laurie pairing (though Jo/Laurie is just as frustrating as ever).
It seemed to take awhile for awards voters to warm up to a classic historical drama this Oscar season, but since the new year Little Women appears to be gaining quite a lot of traction. That’s good for Gerwig and her actors, and also amusing, since Gerwig’s long-term boyfriend, Noah Baumbach, is another contender this season with his own Marriage Story.
Whoever’s film wins, it will still be a worthy start to a new decade in film.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.