For the last couple of years, my sister and I have ventured out to the theaters on Christmas to catch a movie. The first Christmas Day movie we saw was La La Land. Last year, we caught a showing of Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. Two fantastic movies that made the trek into the cold more than worth the trouble. This year we decided to see Greta Gerwig’s new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved Little Women. Unfortunately, we waited too long to grab tickets, and it seemed as though every theater in town shoved the film into their tiniest auditoriums, so every show was sold out but for the very front row, and… honestly, I’m too old to do that to my neck anymore. But my ambition to see Little Women was great, so we opted for a Thursday, post-Christmas showing instead of changing our choice to say, Jumani: The Next Level.
Despite the day change in this new tradition of ours, I can safely say our record of watching a fabulous movie on Christmas (okay, the day after in this case) remains unblemished. Despite a few deviations from the novel, Little Women is still a faithful adaptation, beautifully acted and deftly directed by Gerwig.
Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) is a talented writer who wants to forge her own path in the world, preferably without having to say “I do.” in the process. She has always been the main protagonist of this story, but the real heart and soul of Little Women is sisterhood, and all of the affection, love, bickering, and resentments that come with it.
One thing I enjoyed about this particular adaptation is that Gerwig gives ample screentime to the other sisters as well, rather than keeping the story primarily focused on Jo. Meg (Emma Watson) is the eldest sister who yearns for the finer things in life but finds herself falling in love with a poor tutor. Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is humble and shy, a gifted pianist whose dutiful kindness ends in tragedy. And Amy (Florence Pugh) is the headstrong, occasionally bratty younger sister who has the most growing up to do. Rounding out the March family is Laura Dern as the patient Marmee and Meryl Streep, clearing enjoying herself as the wealthy, occasionally brittle, Aunt March.
They’re all wonderful in the film, but Ronan and Pugh are the clear standouts here. Ronan brings a fierce intensity to Jo that I’ve not seen in earlier adaptations. Her desire for independence, to not bend to society’s expectations of her as a woman, drives her ambition but also sparks a vulnerability in her that is just simmering beneath the surface before it finally breaks free in a heartbreaking confession to Marmee. Gerwig is clever enough to hand us two conclusions to Jo’s story. The one the publishers, and fans, really wanted at the time Little Women was written, and the one Jo wanted, and frankly, deserved.
Florence Pugh is a revelation as Amy, taking her foot-stomping, wailing selfishness and developing the character into an intelligent woman, aware of her place in society and willing to play the game to her advantage. She and Jo are more alike than either care to admit, which put them constantly at odds, not only with their talent but where Laurie (a rather charming Timothée Chalamet) is concerned as well.
It was difficult for me to find much fault in this film. The snow-covered landscapes, the burning orange and red of fall and the fantastic sets make this movie gorgeous to look at. The supporting cast is just as strong as the four sisters, most notably Chris Cooper, whose Mr. Laurence forms a heartbreaking bond with Beth. I could say the only thing about Little Women that was slightly off-putting to me was how Gerwig told the story in a non-linear timeline It was easy enough to catch on, but if one hasn’t read the novel, or didn’t think to look for the small signs of a time jump (such as the locations of the characters or their hairstyles), it might have come across as a bit confusing. A small thing in an otherwise grand film.
Gerwig’s smart interpretation of the classic makes this far from being just another “adaptation we don’t need”. We do need movies like Little Women. Comforting, creative and generous, designed to make you feel like you had just been enveloped in a tight and warm two-hour hug. And we need more Greta Gerwig’s behind the camera to bring them to life.