With so many successful adaptations of “Little Women” out there, in the form of two silent films, three major movies, a few television series, and even a Japanese anime, audiences were curious how this new adaptation would stand out from its predecessors on its holiday release date in 2019.
On Christmas day, Sony Pictures released the newest recreation of the classic American novel, “Little Women,” directed by Greta Gerwig, that graced audiences with its charming and cherished depiction of a strong family unit weaved together with a unique spin on the original story’s plotline, giving the movie its own identity.
The movie follows the March family, with their four daughters and their rich neighbors, Mr. Laurence and his grandson, Laurie. Each with their own personality, the sisters are portrayed by top-tier actresses: Saoirse Ronan as the tomboyish Jo, Emma Watson as the elegant Meg, Eliza Scanlen as the gentle Beth, and Florence Pugh as the extravagant Amy. Together with Laurie, played by Timothée Chalamet, they play and grow up, learning about the world they’re destined to be a part of.
The 2019 version, unlike the major “Little Women” movies before it, decided to begin the film almost three-fourths of the way through the novel in Jo’s perspective and periodically flips back to moments in her childhood that mirror situations in her current adulthood. The differentiation between the past and the present is very miniscule, especially since the actresses look the same age, which could be confusing to audiences, not giving them a sense or understanding of what is happening. Audiences must rely on the subtle changing in lighting to understand a shift: the present being brightly lit, with prominent greys dominating, and the past with its dim, warm, homey glow. This lighting change is beautiful stylistically and works with the overall theme of fondly reminiscing over childhood but is flawed in its lack of clarity.
The movie primarily focuses on Jo, however, the movie made Amy, the youngest sister, share almost the same amount of screen time, a huge difference from prior adaptations yet more in line with the novel. It focuses on Jo and Amy’s opposing personalities: Jo’s nonconformity and Amy’s goal to become a credit to society. This creates not only an interesting dynamic between the sisters but brings depth to the film.
This Amy was one of the highlights of the film, lifting the audience up when some scenes became very emotional. Her comical, vain comments never felt bratty like previous versions which vastly improved her character. She’s not only comic relief though, as she delivers many powerful messages discussing the struggles of financing her artistic pursuits in a man-driven world with the solution of marrying rich.
The biggest change to this version is its biggest asset: the ending. The 150-year-old ending has always had its controversies, starting with the book’s release in 1869. Louisa May Alcott, an abolitionist and a huge advocate of the women’s suffrage movement, was pressured into marrying off Jo, by her publishing company, because they saw it unfit for the main female lead to remain single. Alcott reluctantly married off her beloved character, whom she always planned to remain single, to Mr. Bhaer, an older German professor, but thought it more of a joke considering the rushed relationship and the unlikely match. Director Greta Gerwig, knowing this, decided to showcase the struggles of American women in the time period by incorporating this history into Jo’s character, having her become the author of “Little Women” and go through the same publishing struggles as Alcott. Gerwig played Jo and Bhaer’s sudden romantic interest as a self-aware, deus ex machina, but this comedic edge didn’t remove the scene’s charm or believability in their relationship. It’s an ending that will leave any audience member satisfied.
Overall, the movie is fantastic, and a great watch for anyone who loves classic literature, enjoys wholesome family dynamics, or wishes to see strong characters and rich depth on societal issues. The film is beautiful, is faithful to the novel and the author’s own intensions, yet doesn’t feel like a 150-year-old story, remaining relevant today. For all these reasons, this movie deserves a
Alexandra Gerges // Staff Writer