Review: Little Women (U)

Kate Dunkerton gives high praise in her review of the new adaptation of Little Women

Kate Dunkerton
2nd January 2020
Image: IMDB

Boxing day saw the release of Greta Gerwig’s rendition of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women, a welcome pick me up after the Christmas blues set in. Being the seventh film adaptation of the novel, Gerwig has somehow managed to bring her own spin on the coming-of-age tale about four sisters growing up in Civil War America.

Beginning in a smoke-filled office, we see leading heroine Jo March (Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn), an aspiring writer, as she meets with an editor to get her story published. Despite enjoying the story, the editor is baffled over the lack of marriage at the end for Jo’s heroine, who begrudgingly agrees to marry her off if she is to become a published writer. Running through the streets of New York, Jo returns to her boarding house where she is a teacher to young children and bonds with Professor Bhaer (Louis Garrel, The Dreamers). After criticising her work, a distraught Jo returns to her family home in Massachusetts where her beloved younger sister Beth (Eliza Scanlan, Sharp Objects) is growing sicker from scarlet fever.

Meryl Streep steals every scene she is in with her dark humour and attitude to marriage.

Cutting seven years earlier to 1861, we see all four sisters as Jo and Meg (Emma Watson, Harry Potter) get ready for a party, showing Jo’s clumsy and tomboyish nature as she accidentally burns off a strand of Meg’s hair trying to curl it. Meeting their lonely neighbour Laurie (Timothée Chalamet, Call me by your Name), he is soon welcomed by the March family, filling the hole that their father (Bob Odenkirk, Breaking Bad) left behind by joining the war in the south. Meg soon connects with Laurie’s poor tutor John Brooke (James Norton, Happy Valley), much to Jo’s dismay.

Weaving between the past and the present, we see the trials of the March sisters as they find love or, in Jo’s case, go through turmoil as she is conflicted between her ambition to be a writer and societal pressure to marry. The relationship between Jo and the equally ambitious Amy (Florence Pugh, Fighting with my Family) is a particularly complex one, as their strong personalities clash their conflict must be diffused by wise matriarch Marmee (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park). Also making a brief appearance is Aunt March (Meryl Streep, Sophie’s Choice), who steals every scene she is in with her dark humour and attitude to marriage.

After their 2017 collaboration on Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird, Ronan proves to be Gerwig’s muse as she captures the audience’s attention through her moving portrayal of a young woman struggling to succumb to social expectations and growing up. Adding memorable quotes not present in Alcott’s novel, Gerwig’s faithful adaptation proves the story of the March sisters is timeless.

Rating: 5/5

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