Many American classic books have already become feature films. Little Women is one such novel that has many big-screen adaptations. Little Women from Greta Gerwig is the latest interpretation putting a 21st-century spin on this late 19th-century story.
The film received a Best Picture nomination and belonged amongst the best of 2019. Now out to buy and rent, the film’s performances and direction are key reasons for its award season success.
Saoirse Ronan delivers a knock-out performance as Jo March, the main character of the film. Jo is surrounded by her three sisters, mother, and caretaker during the days of the American Civil War. The cast is a whos-who of today’s best young actresses. All channel youth and adventure as they start out their lives and plan for the future. Ronan’s Jo is bright and determined, but not without drama. Her dream of making all the choices in her own life and avoiding the expectations of others is as poignant now as ever.
Laura Dern is memorable and charming as the mother of the brood. Many of us feel as though we grew up with Emma Watson, but watching Meg March grow and change felt like a maturing for Watson as well. This can give way for her to play more adult roles rather than continuing as teenage counterparts. Florence Pugh puts wit, style, and annoying younger sister together seamlessly for Amy.
Often book movies have a certain feel as they play out in the structure of a novel rather than the traditional three-act structure of a film. Gerwig’s screenplay forgoes the linear storytelling of the novel for a non-linear approach to the timeline. This reorganizing allows the film to have a better dramatic story by placing many of the book’s turning points towards to end of the film. Through this, you can also see what is most impactful in the lives of each character as their plot aligns in a way they have not before. This modernization allows this film to stand-out against its predecessors as the best Little Women film to date, though it’s not as true to the original narrative.
Despite this, the non-linear storytelling led to many jumps and cuts between different points in the film timeline that was not always well explained. There wasn’t always enough of a difference or transition to make it obvious which part of the story we were in. The early scenes tended to be brighter with the later scenes a bit gloomier, but this variance became too muddled to track. The film bounced around too much that the overall narrative suffered.
The film does work as an anthem, as this story always has. Watching Jo March become the writer she always wanted to be in very satisfying by the end and feels well earned. Little Women fits well in its modern context, perhaps it fits in better now than ever. This is the most engaging and thoughtful film adaptation of this novel by far.
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