When it was announced that Greta Gerwig’s next project would be a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s iconic book Little Women, I can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t have been thoroughly excited. Little Women has an important place in the hearts of many girls and women as a book which finally placed emphasis on the inner lives of young women and their hopes and dreams, beyond that of finding a suitable man and settling down. Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth were all our sisters, we were all little women and to be reunited with them again on the big screen seemed like an opportunity to catch up with our own childhood self.
The film, as the book, follows the lives of the brilliantly witty, funny and warm March sisters, who are watched over by their loving mother Marmee while Mr. March is fighting in the Civil War. Meg, the oldest, is the most calm and sensible of the lot while Jo, an aspiring writer is always up to no good. Beth is quiet and loves her dolls and playing the piano and Amy, the youngest of the sisters, has grand plans of becoming an artist and marrying rich to finally find comfort in her life.
And disappointed we were not in Gerwig’s warm and inviting adaptation. Little Women is a rousing cry for women to be true to themselves and find happiness on their own terms. There is a sense of urgency to Gerwig’s storytelling; the frames are constantly alive with movement and this makes the narrative at times feel rushed when Gerwig refuses to let her frames sit still. And perhaps it should feel rushed, as we scramble to keep hold of the warmly lit scenes of the March sisters’ childhood, but the present keeps catching up with us with its much colder colour palette and stark reality.
Little Women is full of Gerwig’s own motherly gaze over the titular little women. The film pulsates with love and affection towards each and every one of the sisters, all of them with their own distinct personalities, which all get their time to shine. The romances, while allowed some screen time, always come second to the girls’ bigger dreams. The most time is awarded to Jo’s ambitions of becoming a great writer; she is desperate to be remembered and celebrated rather than just forgotten like many women before her.
As with Gerwig’s previous film Lady Bird, Little Women is full of great performances. Saoirse Ronan is full of fire and passion as Jo, keeping the narrative alive with her timely ambitions of wanting to be someone of worth rather than just someone’s wife. Jo, and Ronan, embody the age-old, central conflict of being a woman; often being defined by her feelings and having to deny them to be taken seriously. But the crushing feelings of loneliness and heartache are ever present, eating her from the inside as they are all of us. If she admits to them, she fears that means she becomes a lesser version of herself but the longer she denies them, the longer she hurts and Ronan beautifully portrays Jo’s inner struggles and her desire to be free and her own woman.
Amy, brilliantly played by Florence Pugh as both a child and adult, embodies the other common problem, that of love or money. For women, especially of their time, it’s often a case of either or, either marry for a man’s money and lead a comfortable life full of balls and gowns or marry for love and most often find yourself poor. Pugh gives a passionate speech later on in the film to their neighbour and trusted friend Laurie (a dashing Timothee Chalamet) about her desire to be great or nothing and live a good life with a man who can provide for her. Amy, like her sisters, has known from a young age what she wants from life and she won’t be shamed for it, because why should she? Perhaps this is the most radical aspect of Gerwig’s Little Women; these women are confident in themselves and what they want from life. They cannot be persuaded to change or to conform with the norm, whatever that might be.
Little Women is a near perfect film; there are a few aspects that don’t quite work such as the strange testimonials spoken directly to the camera which don’t happen often enough to feel like an organic part of the film. But it’s easy to forgive all of Little Women’s faults when it’s done with this much heart and love. This is filmmaking at its most earnest and honest, a film which attempts and succeeds in bringing the inner lives of women to the screen with conviction and passion. You’ll be lucky to spend 2 hours with Gerwig and her little women.
Little Women arrives on Digital on 11th and DVD and Blu Ray 25th May.
Dir: Greta Gerwig
Scr: Great Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet
Prd: Amy Pascal, Denise Di Novi, Robin Swicord
DOP: Yorick Le Saux
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Run time: 135 minutes