If you have been following my writing for any amount of time you know I am a huge fan of Little Women, both novel and many film adaptations. In fact, it was the first big book I was proud of reading and finishing. I remember relating to all 4 March sisters and crying when Beth died and hoping I could be wild and independent just like Jo. It’s the best!
Unfortunately the film versions have been more than a little disappointing lately with a weak adaptation from PBS and a terrible modern adaptation at the theaters last year. So as you can imagine I approached this new version by director Greta Gerwig with a mixture of excitement and fear. Fortunately, for the most part, I enjoyed it and definitely recommend it for families during this Christmas season.
There are many strengths to this new version of Little Women. To begin with, most of the casting is strong. I especially liked Saoirse Ronan (who I’ve loved ever since Brooklyn) as Jo. She brought the independent spirit while keeping the character easy to relate with and likable. I also enjoyed Emma Watson as Meg and admire her for taking a small part in an ensemble film when she certainly could demand more.
Laura Dern is also strong as Marmee and Meryl Streep is fun as the crotchety Aunt March (although it’s weird for me to think of Meryl as so old!). Chris Cooper also puts in nice work as Mr Lawrence and Timothy Chalamet is a decent Laurie (a very difficult role to cast because you can’t make him too charming or you are mad at Jo nor too nerdy or there’s no romantic tension. It’s tough).
For the most part the big beats of the story are done well and I particularly think Jo and Laurie shippers will like the choices made. The film also looks beautiful with lovely period details in locations and costumes.
The mixed aspects of LittleWomen mostly come from 2 areas. The first is the non-linear storytelling. Normally I am not a fan of this narrative choice as I think it breaks up any momentum the characters have (Man of Steel…) and I feel some of that here. However, because you see Amy and Laurie together very early on it makes the transition from him and Jo, to him and Amy, a lot more believable and effortless.
The other problem is the decision to cast 1 actress to play Amy instead of 2 like they did in the 1994 film. Although not as absurd as the 1949 version with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy, 23 year old Florence Pugh looks weird trying to play a 12 year old. This awkwardness is enhanced by the non-linear storytelling where you are flipped around from young and older versions of the character while the actress looks the same at all ages. Florence Pugh is fine in the role but I just think they should have cast 2 for the character like they did in the 1994 version.
There aren’t many outright cons for this version of Little Women; however, I have a couple. The first one is I wasn’t crazy about Eliza Scanlen as Beth. Claire Daines is so much better in the 1994 version, and I think the non-linear storytelling hurt our connection to Beth and the mounting tension and stress on her family her illness brings the most.
I also thought the final scenes with Jo were a little too cute and overtly modern for my taste. The character is a classic example of the independent female archetype. She does not need extra scenes with her being snarky or clever to prove the point.
Other than that I enjoyed Little Women. I hope it will inspire a new crop of young girls to read the book and hopefully appreciate their families more each day.
When you get to see this version please let me know what you think.
7 out of 10