By Holly Buckley
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the classic novel Little Women may be one of the freshest and wholesome films of the year. To this day, there has been countless adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s well-known novel, but Gerwig’s unique interpretation stands out by a mile. She excels in creating a seamless balance between keeping loyal to the original text and constructing her own individual modern lens. It is amazing how this film makes a novel published in 1868 feel so alive and present in our modern world.
Little Women is a homage to females. The film follows the March sisters, Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy, as they transition from childhood to womanhood during the aftermath of the American Civil War. The film encounters their struggles and their relationships are tested. The sisters are determined to live life on their own terms and although they are all different, they are always bound together by love no matter what. What I found most striking about the adaptation is Gerwig’s choice in restructuring the narrative timeline. She takes the story out of its chronology and consistently cuts between the warm-lit, saturated optimism of the past and the colder oppressive present. Her shots frankly capture the whimsical dreaminess and optimism of childhood and juxtaposes this to the harsher, bleaker adult reality joined hand in hand with societal responsibilities. This is what makes the film so light-hearted and fun while at the same time it tackles gloomier themes like death, class, poverty, injustice etc.
Looking back at older adaptations, Little Women can be played as a romance film for example, others focus on that back and forth, -will they/won’t they? – between Jo and Laurie. This is not a ‘retelling’ but Gerwig’s artistic decision and vision. She enhances the story by pushing certain themes and characters into the spotlight. Hence why her version concentrates on Jo’s ambition to be a writer, Amy’s desire to be the world’s most famous painter, Beth’s adoration for music and Meg’s desire for a family. In a world where women are expected to marry young and wealthy, Gerwig captures this new dimension of these not so little women and their desire to have a voice and to be heard in a world that mutes them.
There are many notable performances in this film. Gerwig has an extraordinary cast, including names such as Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet and Meryl Streep…to name a few. But Ronan’s depiction of the impulsive outspoken tomboy Jo March is both memorable and magnificent. Jo is an unusual character for a book published in the nineteenth century – she’s human. She is rebellious – she uses her passions to defy her oppressive society. When she is pitching her stories to an editor in the opening scene, he tells her that if the stories focus is on women her fate must result in either death or marriage. For Louisa May Alcott this was sadly a reality, and, in the novel, she writes a husband for Jo even though she states multiple times that she has no desire to marry – like Alcott herself who never married. Gerwig’s ending is perfect. We are presented with a parallel sequence, one depicting the books ending and secondly, Gerwig’s alternative where she argues that the real happy ending is Jo’s book being published. Here we see the parallel between Jo and Alcott. Gerwig cleverly inverts the original ending to become only just part of fiction, she knows that it was not the ending that Jo deserved, for her true love is her novel and her sisterhood. Gerwig makes a powerful statement but also a universally human one. Her ending is both creative and bold, but it is also a serene tribute to Louisa May Alcott.
To end, if you have not seen Little Women yet, I strongly urge you to do so. Although it is a very old text, you will be amazed at its modern spirit. Greta Gerwig’s directing style is amazing and her contemporary twist is bold and refreshing. The cast is amazing, it’s witty, it’s emotional – it is everything HUMAN and more. It is just that uplift that moviegoers need, and I could blabber on but save your time and just go see it…and give Greta Gerwig an Oscar, please!!!