Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is a cornerstone piece of literature. The novel has captured the hearts and minds of young women for years and the original 1994 film adaptation already holds a cherished place in popular culture. Greta Gerwig’s stab at the beloved story seems to be set up for success. The cast seems perfect and Gerwig has already demonstrated a mastery in her ability to put the crucial subtleties of girlhood to film. So, does Little Women do this? Yes. Beautifully.
The film, with immense respect for its source material, allows the story to grow up and take on an air of modernity that makes what some would call a tired tale feel fresh and exciting. This particular adaptation draws from both the themes of the classic novel and the further writings of Louisa May Alcott. In Little Women, four very different sisters – the relentlessly ambitious Jo (Saoirse Ronan), the gentle Beth (Eliza Scanlen), the beautiful and passionate Amy (Florence Pugh), and the warm and romantic Meg (Emma Watson) – are determined to live a life built on their own terms in whatever ways they can.
Through romances, dreams, and the bond of sisterhood, these ‘little women’ each make a stamp on their story that is equal parts timeless and effectivley timely. Greta Gerwig is bringing her very best to the film in the directors chair, and with her an all-star supporting cast, including Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, and Timothee Chalamet, realise the classic story to absolute perfection. The entire premise of the film is built on both the strength of bonds as well as the unflappable will of courageous individuals. It takes a very special kind of ensemble to pull off that duality and the cast of Little Women feels like lightning in a bottle.
Ronan, Scanlen, Watson, and Pugh each perform their roles as though they were born into them. Each actress, in her own right, is dazzling to watch and the dynamic they form together is even more enchanting. They’re bright, funny, warm, and even a bit nasty when the scene calls for it. Let the record show that Florence Pugh is destined to build a behemoth of a career on having the world’s most charming frown.
The strength of the ensemble extends well outside the leads and into a grounding performance by Laura Dern and Meryl Streep chewing scenery left and right. Timothee Chalamet and French darling Louis Garrel charm the audience through a flirtatious journey. If it’s any indication of how solid the pair are, this critic’s screening was punctuated by the romantic sighs of many audience members… perhaps even including myself, dear reader.
Every detail of Gerwig’s Little Women speaks elegantly to the story and its unique characters. The sets are rich and gorgeous and one only needs to take in an immaculate costume for a moment to know everything there is to know about a character. It’s some of the best wardrobe work I’ve seen this year.
As enchanting and enjoyable as period pieces can be, it’s easy to see how some viewers may feel out of touch with the conflicts of marrying well and gaining status. However, Gerwig takes all the sitting rooms and intrigue of the novel and gives it a jolt of contemporary life. The crux of Little Women is that it’s a film about agency and control. Each of the characters is able to boldly pursue what’s important to them in life. Whether that’s finding love, pursuing a lifestyle, seeking new ways to earn their own money, or fiercely advocating for their story to be told their way. Giving women in a restrictive period full ownership of themselves makes it feel inherently refreshing instead of tight-laced.
Moreover, the film shows many different versions of womanhood and unapologetic femininity and celebrates it. The tomboy and the primping beauty. The career obsessed and the homemaker. Happy brides and wealthy spinsters. All of the women of Little Women are shown in control, living for themselves and the ones they love, and being absolutely phenomenal while doing it.
Little Women is bright, beautiful, and puts a smile on your face from start to finish. Take your friends. Take your mother. Take any woman or girl who lives for herself or needs a gentle reminder to do so. Little Women receives our warmest recommendation.
Little Women is in cinemas December 25th
by Caitlin Kennedy
Caitlin is a sweater enthusiast, film critic, and lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began with being shown Rosemary’s Baby at a particularly impressionable age and she’s been hooked ever since. She loves a good bourbon and hates people who talk in movies. Caitlin has been writing since 2014 and you can find her work on Film Inquiry, The Financial Diet, Shuffle Online, and many others. Follow her on Twitter at @CaitDoes