Greta Gerwig, fresh off her critical success Lady Bird, delivers the seventh adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel, Little Women, and I absolutely adored it. Gerwig continues to force her way into the conversation of best directors and writers working today, and after only her first two films, to imagine she hasn’t done her best work…is that even possible? Can a film so good truly exist? As long as Saoirse Ronan is in it, I’ll be happy.
Little Women offers everything you would want in a period piece, from the costumes to the ballroom dances and carriage rides, to the beautiful yet often critical language. Alexandre Desplat, whose work won him an academy award for The Shape of Water, offers a finely tuned score that plays with our emotions as much as Timothée Chalamet’s face. But I find that the most important aspect of the film, is that despite the era it is set in, it remains relevant to today; it’s a classic tale of feminism but supplied with modernity. Gerwig assures aspiring young women can see themselves in the March sisters, and that they can relate to their struggles and hardships, but also revel in their successes. So often, the most complained about “feminist icons” in films are discredited because they are placed into the position of the hero and role model before having earned it, but in Little Women the March sisters naturally develop into strong characters, specifically Jo and Amy (the precisely fierce Saoirse Ronan and endearingly boisterous Florence Pugh, respectively). They are human, not without flaws, but also are determined to have what they want and won’t let anyone, not even snarky old Aunt March (Meryl Streep is a scene-stealer), get in their way. As Gerwig bounces between two timelines in telling the well-known story, the sisters’ colorful early days and sobering adulthoods, she is not preachy nor indifferent, finding perfect balance in creating the central theme of female independence and passion for art.
While it is the film’s playful youth that may grab the most attention, it is the underlining maturity which elevates the film. Gerwig has fun with scenes such as when Jo and Laurie erratically dance from window to window outside a New Year’s party, or when the sisters at one of their meetings break out their best parodies of officeholders, but it is in scenes when the film transitions into earnestness that it is most successful in accomplishing sincerity. Moments such as Beth and Jo reminiscing on the beach for the last time, or when Chris Cooper’s Mr. Laurence listens to Beth playing his granddaughter’s piano acting as examples of this. And this emotional maturity is not demonstrated by anyone more than Laura Dern as Marmee. You see glimpses of the pain her character hides so well, while her selfless kindness warms the film. As I’m sure other mothers can relate, Marmee is the glue which holds the family together, and in doing so, the film too. “I’m not patient by nature, but with nearly forty years of effort I have learned to not let it get the better of me.”
Little Women will break your heart and melt it too; I cannot think of a more delightfully charming film. 9.5/10