As a fan of period dramas with strong female protagonists, naturally I’ve been looking forward to seeing the new Little Women adaptation. I remember loving the Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version, but 25 years is a long enough time to see a new adaptation from Louisa May Alcott‘s autobiographical novel about her own life with her three sisters in post-Civil War America.
After the success of Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig was undoubtedly poised to helm this adaptation that’s packed with a stellar cast: Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Florence Pugh as Amy, Emma Watson as Meg and Eliza Scanlen as Beth. She re-teamed with Ronan once again, who apparently asked to be cast as the headstrong, modern protagonist Jo March. The film is told from her perspective as she reflects on her life in a non-linear narrative. It took some time for me to figure out which timeline is being told, as one has to really pay attention to details whether a scene takes place in flashback or present. But once the film gets going, it’s easier to follow and I was immersed in the March sisters’ journey.
Lady Bird was beloved by critics and audiences alike, but I must say I enjoyed Little Women more and Gerwig’s direction has the right amount of flair to make the story really come alive. Ronan is a consistently excellent actress, but she clearly reveled in this role. She’s so lively, passionate and fiery as Jo March, and her independent spirit shines through. The March sisterhood is endearing and emotionally moving, each woman’s journey is handled with care and most importantly, each is given a ‘voice’ that most women is deprived of in that era. Jo’s relationship with each of her sister is well-developed, especially the sibling rivalry between her and Amy.
Pugh has quickly become one of my favorite actresses and the incredibly gifted miss Ronan has truly met her match in this casting. Of course I was as furious as Jo when she found out Amy had done that heinous thing to her (you know what I mean if you’ve read the book or seen the film). Their relationship is the most explosive, for a lack of a better word, without being over-dramatic, with each young performer fiercely holding her own. The speech Amy made about how the inequality of women of that time is a defining moment in the film. Though delivered almost in a matter-of-fact manner by Pugh, it packed an emotional punch. Apparently that whole speech was written in the last minute just before shooting, at the suggestion of Meryl Streep who played Aunt March.
In terms of casting, Laura Dern is wonderful as the kind, caring mother of the March girls. Streep is always great to watch and she even became a comic relief at times, but it’s Chris Cooper who’s absolutely devastating as Mr. Laurence. He imbued SO much heart in the role with barely any word spoken… and relationship with Beth, who reminds him of the granddaughter he lost, is particularly heart-rending.
I remember having a bit of a crush on the 1994’s version of boy next door Laurie (played by Christian Bale, natch!), but I absolutely adore Timothée Chalamet in the role. The Hollywood’s boyfriend of the moment has always been extremely watchable, but the way he looks at Jo with his longing look… oh my! And that proposal scene just breaks my heart.
Now, if I have to nitpick however, is the relationship between Jo and Friedrich Bhaer, the professor. Now, I can forgive casting a French actor (Louis Garrel) playing a German character (or someone with a German name), but I just didn’t feel much connection between the two and the scene feels rushed somehow. I remember swooning over Gabriel Byrne as Bhaer and the ‘my hands are empty’ scene was far more emotional.
Overall though, this is definitely one of the best literary adaptations and it’s a shame Greta Gerwig and the film was overlooked at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs. Let’s see if the Academy would rectify that. It’s a film with an inspiring message for girls and women alike, and a good one for boys as well to serve as a reminder that the journey for women equality still continues. In terms of production values, there are plenty to admire as well. The production design by Jess Gonchor is excellent, setting it in Louisa May Alcott’s family home where she wrote the novel adds so much authenticity. So is Jacqueline Durran‘s costumes that look era appropriate and fits each character well. The gorgeous cinematography by Yorick Le Saux and lush music score by Alexandre Desplat all makes Little Women a feast for the senses and one I think I’ll want to watch over and over for years to come.
Have you seen Little Women? Well, what did you think?