LITTLE WOMEN (2019)

Some stories are simply timeless. No matter how old they are, their themes, stories, and characters transcend time, universally relatable to anyone at any time. What comes with timeless stories, though, are loads of adaptations. Theater, film, television, radio plays. Everybody wants to put their own spin on a classic, but it does get to the point where it’s adapted for the umpteenth time and you’re just left thinking, “Really? Another?” 
 
Taking place in the 1860’s, Little Woman (2019) follows the March sisters: Jo (Saoirse Ronin), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen). They live in a boarding home with their mother Marmee (Laura Dern), while their father (Bob Odenkirk) is out assisting in the American Civil War. Over seven years, they face many obstacles that women had to overcome at the time, including misogyny, subjugation, and forced love and marriage. 
 
Louisa May Alcott’s seminal novel Little Women has been adapted dozens of times over the decades since its release. There have been numerous stage plays, television series, films, and hell, even an anime based off the novel. So, it seems like at this point, why even bother? Well, like I stated above, the themes of Little Women are universal and relatable to practically anyone, especially women. The story of women trying to find their place in the world is still relevant, perhaps even more, more than 150 years later. But still, what else can you do? There are plenty of other versions to watch, so what makes a new version so special? Well, enter Greta Gerwig. 
 
Gerwig was already a successful actress and screenwriter in the indie scene, but you could tell her true calling was directing after her debut with Lady Bird. However, as it can happen with new directors, their first film is fantastic, but the rest of their efforts are lackluster. Well, it’s safe to say that Lady Bird was not a fluke. What makes Gerwig so talented is her ability to take material that seems to be mundane, but brings it to life with style, atmosphere, and energy. Like Lady Bird, Little Women (2019) isn’t really about the plot, but about the characters. It’s all about these four women as they grow up, mature, and truly find themselves. It’s a lot of sitting and standing around and talking, but there’s a quick pace and tight editing to cover all of the elements of the novel. The cinematography is gorgeous and Gerwig knows how to use utilize visuals to get the maximum emotional effect. It’s never melodramatic and even times subdued, but it always works. The atmosphere she creates is palpable, where the production design and costumes feel so real and lived in, which she also pulled off well in Lady Bird. She tells the story in a non-linear fashion, cutting back and forth between the women as teenagers and adults. It’s occasionally confusing, especially at times where it goes back and forth so rapidly, but it mostly works and was an interesting way to tell the story. 
 
Of course, Little Women (2019) wouldn’t be anything without the titular little women, and all of these women are wonderful. We have a fantastic cast of actresses here, who all naturally play their very different characters. With Brooklyn and Lady Bird, Saoirse Ronin has proved herself to be one of the best working actresses today. As expected, she’s fantastic here, and is basically the main character. She does most of the dramatic heavy lifting and her attempting to get her book published is the main thread of the film. Her story provides the film with most of its themes, such as women never being taken seriously at the time, and men trying to tell them what to do, say, and think. We’ve definitely made a lot of progress since in the 1860’s when it comes to women’s rights, but these themes are still relevant today. She’s fantastic, but I did feel like her accent was slipping at times. I never noticed this happening in Lady Bird, but there were times I think I heard that Irish accent coming out. The same goes for Emma Watson, who has clearly grown as an actress, and she pulls off that debutante look and personality. Her accent slipped a bit too, with some of that Brit coming out, but she’s a come a long way in that department since The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  
 
If there is an actress who gets a little shortchanged, it’s Eliza Scanlan as Beth. That’s just how the story is written and she’s not as large of character as the other sisters, but she makes the most of her limited screentime, not needing much dialogue to fully become her character. Who I was the most impressed with was Florence Pugh. She was a great lead in Fighting with My Family and was easily the best part of Midsommar and she’s even better here. Not only did her accent never slip, but I felt she showed the most growth in terms of her acting when compared to her character. Her 13-year-old self and 20-year-old self are night and say personalities. As a teenager, she’s immature, petty, and usually the cause of any conflict amongst the sisters. As an adult, she’s far more mature, but still jealous of her sister having seemingly better lives than her. Her character was by far the most interesting, which is probably because she’s the most natural. She also has the best chemistry with Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), who is involved in a love triangle with her and Jo. He plays a character similar to his one in Lady Bird, but he has a much bigger part here. Like the other characters, you can feel his growth between the seven years. Unfortunately, the romantic subplots between the other sisters are pretty underdeveloped and just felt there to fulfill a romantic quota. 
 
Stellar actors like Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk, Chris Cooper, and Tracy Letts round out the rest of the cast, but just having a great cast doesn’t make for a great film. You need a talented director and screenwriter and Greta Gerwig is just that. It definitely helps when you have classic material to go off of, but when something is adapted over and over again, it’s hard to do something new. Well, Gerwig did here with her own spin on Little Women and while it’s a story over 150 years old, she shows that the story is more relevant and timelier as ever. 
 
8.5/10 

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