Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…often seems altered, confused and simplified from original intention. Despite its imperfections and faults, this bright, sisterhood saga is full of joy, which audiences will no doubt embrace.
Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, her follow up to Lady Bird, is a significantly different movie to its predecessor. The $42M literary adaptation, produced and distributed by Sony, is a substantially bigger scale proposition than Lady Bird – an original, contemporary independent movie made for $10M.
Saoirse Ronan plays the freethinking Jo March, the beloved heroine of Louisa May Alcott’s chronicle of sisterhood which has been a literary favourite for decades, receiving at least seven film adaptations and eight TV versions. A story that was a definitive text for generations of young girls growing up; a reflection of society and the pressures women faced to marry in order to achieve success.
Little Women is filled with an energy and zeal which recalls Gerwig’s 2003, Sacramento-set Lady Bird, with Ronan providing a welcome connecting thread to their previous collaboration. The actor-on-the-rise leads as one the four teenage March sisters growing up in 19th century Massachusetts, with mother Marmie March (Laura Dern), while their father (Bob Odenkirk) is away fighting in the Civil War. Alongside Ronan are Harry Potter actor Emma Watson as sibling Meg, and rising stars Florence Pugh (Midsommar) as Amy March and Eliza Scanlen (upcoming Babyteeth) as sister Beth.
Pursuing her literary ambitions, Jo is torn between her literary mentor Friedrich (French actor Louis Garrel – Jealousy, At Eternity’s Gate), and unreserved dreamboat Laurie, played by Timothée Chalamet – who acted with Ronan in Lady Bird. With her impending future uncertain and her father away, Jo turns to wise matriarch/book favourite Aunt March (Meryl Streep) for counsel. Rounding out the film’s all-star cast, Streep is joined by her Adaptation co-star Chris Cooper (in a terrific turn as Laurie’s generous grandfather Mr. Laurence, who takes the March sisters under his wing).
Concentrating on its protagonist’s struggles of choosing and navigating between societal expectations and career aspirations (Chalamet’s Laurie, who is adored by all the March sisters, or Garrel’s Friedrich); pressure to marry versus dreams of visiting abroad and becoming an author; Gerwig’s first studio feature puts a major spotlight on Ronan’s Jo March. Alcott’s most popular novel and its character’s struggles with the growing pains of independence reflect Lady Bird. Both are female coming-of-age tales.
Little Women is largely successful in re-capturing the youthful enthusiasm of Gerwig’s preceding movie. However, the film is marred by muddling time jumps which will confuse audiences, its 2+ hour running time (which, paradoxically somehow feels truncated and missing key story details, yet is too long), plus sub-plots seem to be missing, glossed over – or greatly reduced.
Despite what feels like consistent producer meddling, the stamp of Gerwig comes through in spades. The jealousy and anguish conveyed by the trio of Ronan, Chalamet and Pugh. The chaos of sibling rivalry. The bravura and unconventional handheld camerawork of French cinematographer Yorick Le Saux (I Am Love, High Life), which captures the vigour of Jo – noticeably during a brief dance between Jo and Laurie.
Equally, the subversive and winking touch of March’s publisher Mr. Dashwood (playwright-actor Tracey Letts) addressing the camera and insisting the heroine of Little Women be married off – that no-one will “buy” the story otherwise.
A big-studio affair “holiday release”, this is a project Gerwig was “brought onto” to take over the reins. Though it comes full circle in its ending, Gerwig’s version of Little Women often seems altered, confused and simplified from original intention. As a result, the film suffers. Despite its imperfections and faults, this bright, sisterhood saga is full of joy, which audiences will no doubt embrace.