A Review of ‘Little Women’

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Nate Lentz

“I found the movie to be really moving, so I definitely would recommend it,” said Ula Pranevicius ’20, in reference to the recently released film 'Little Women.'

The 1860s novel, Little Women has, once again, been brought back to life by script writer and director Greta Gerwig. This coming-of-age drama film appears to bring a new and more feminist outlook into Louisa May Alcott’s renowned masterpiece, which follows the life of the March family through tales of sisterhood, bravery, and love as the four March sisters, or “little women,” transform from childhood to womanhood. Jo March (Saoirse Ronan), the adventurous, independent and free-spirited sister, leads the plot by entering an office and meeting with Dashwood (Tracy Letts), a newspaper editor to whom Jo attempts to sell one of her stories. Her spirits, at first brought down as she watches him cross out an entire page of her work without flinching, are then brought back up as he decides to publish her. He comments on her writing and tells her that next time, she should “make it short and spicy. And if the main character’s a girl, make sure she’s married by the end. Or dead, either way.” This moment serves as a reality check in the film and foreshadows later discussions about restrictions that women faced in the nineteenth century, even in fictional stories. 

The cast certainly does not fall short either. Marmee, who is played by Golden Globe-winning actress Laura Dern, portrays a genuinely caring and loving mother. Ronan’s performance encapsulates the novel’s casually energetic Jo while portraying a newly liberating personality. Throughout the movie, Ronan and Dern’s mother-daughter scenes brought many viewers to the verge of tears. After a very dynamic scene, the youngest of the sisters Amy (Florence Pugh), nearly dies after falling through ice while chasing Jo after a fight, the mother (Marmee) and Jo share a heartwarming moment. Jo shares with Marmee her growing concern for her uncontrollable anger, but instead of scolding her for her hot temper, Marmee reassures her, 

“You remind me of myself.”

“But you’re never angry.”

“I’m angry nearly every day of my life.”

This touching moment, taken almost directly from the original novel itself, successfully produces the gratifying and heartwarming effect Gerwig intended for it to provide.

Amy March is one of the more difficult characters to play in the movie. After all, her development from childhood to womanhood is the most obvious of all the girls. In past adaptations of the movie, viewers have tended to dislike the portrayal of Amy and have dismissed her character as unlikeable and bratty. However, Pugh’s performance is one of a kind. She manages to develop Amy from a cute, playful, sometimes hot-tempered little girl into a sophisticated, beautiful and wise young woman. Even when she burns some drafts of Jo’s beloved writing during a fit of anger, it is easy to see that this is due to Amy’s immaturity, rather than just pure malice. 

Gerwig structures the movie by splitting her story among different “episodes,” flashing back and forth between the girls’ adult life and childhood together. “I loved that the film utilized different lighting and filters to transition between the adult and teen timeline (blue and cold filters for adult, and orange warm tones for the younger timeline),” said Shaira Jafar ’21. Laurie, the March’s neighbor brilliantly played by Timothée Chalamet, charms and breaks the hearts of the viewers as he is rejected by Jo. “When [Laurie] asks [Jo] to marry him, what’s so wonderful and heartbreaking about it is it’s not just that he’s saying ‘I love you’ and she’s saying ‘I don’t love you… it’s like he’s claiming his adult role and he’s asking her to claim hers, and she doesn’t want to. Amy wants to,’” said Gerwig at an interview for The Atlantic.

Emma Watson, who plays Meg, the oldest of the four sisters, beautifully illustrates the image of a loving sister who struggles to find herself among her wealthier friends. Eliza Scanlen plays the last of the March sisters: Beth, the quietest and most musically inclined. Although her story isn’t as groundbreaking as Jo’s, Beth’s fragile demeanor and precious relationship with Laurie’s grandfather instantly warm the audience’s hearts. 

Overall, viewers were captivated by Gerwig’s film from start to end. “To some, this movie may seem like a slice-of-life movie, but I think it was a perfect adaptation of a timeless piece of writing,” said Jafar. The film has been critically acclaimed, and Sairsose Ronan was even nominated at the 77th Golden Globe Awards for Best Actress.

The movie manages to touch on various social issues.  Following the themes of the book, Ronan’s fierce interpretation of Jo’s character makes nineteenth-century restrictions on women obvious through Jo’s efforts to break away from those stereotypes. Most of the complaints the movie has received, however, are not from its lack of feminism, but rather for its lack of inclusivity. The movie rarely moves beyond praising white feminism, failing to acknowledge the struggle of nonwhite women during that time period. Some may argue that it is, in fact, a period piece based on a book that spoke only about white feminism. However, it can also be argued that if you are attempting to do a remake of such a treasured piece of literature, it is worth change more than just a couple of lines, and not attempting to summarize the struggle of slavery and racism during the Civil War in just a one minute dialogue.

Overall, viewers were captivated by Gerwig’s film from start to end.