Everybody knows Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel “Little Women.” This is a story that has already been adapted to the screen for both film and television several times since 1933, as well as for theatrical productions both big and small. Director Greta Gerwig, using source material she clearly adores, somehow manages to bring this already-familiar story to life in a burst of fresh energy that stands as one of 2019’s very best films.
Set during the Civil War in Concord, Massachusetts, the four March sisters struggle to make it in the world as their individual selves who can live the way they desire. Societal pressures strongly encourage them to fill certain social and gender roles like getting married to a wealthy man who can provide for them.
Leading the story is Jo March, played with both confidence and vulnerability by the lovely Saorise Ronan. Jo is a determined writer, and wants her stories to be told while searching for her place in a world she feels lost in. Ronan gives her best performance since “Brooklyn” in 2015, bringing this iconic character to life with sincere sadness and drive that makes us fall in love with her from the very start. Somewhat similar to her 2017 “Lady Bird” character Christine, Ronan captures the pressure and hardships of growing up as a young woman uncertain about where her destiny lies and fully embodies every aspect of this complex character.
Amy, the rambunctious yet equally ambitious painter, has always been the most hated character in “Little Women,” yet rising star Florence Pugh (who was extraordinary in the summer horror “Midsommar”) gives Amy the roundness her character deserves. Amy is a girl we love to hate one second because of how obnoxious she is and then moments later empathize with her due to how she feels inferior to Jo. Pugh also brings a fun comedic relief to the story and shines as an actress in her element amongst an already star-studded cast.
Emma Watson is splendid as Meg March, an aspiring actress with the most sense out of the sisters and is always there to keep her sisters in line. Watson brings an intelligent charisma and grace to the screen similar to her work in the “Harry Potter” films as Hermione that shines in every scene. The fourth of the March Sisters, Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is mildly explored as the talented piano player who is given the least screen time and serves as more of a supporting character to build up the other's stories.
Superb as always, Laura Dern is the Marchs’ mother Marmee, who does her best to guide her daughters through their difficult situation of being of modest income and having their father fighting the Confederacy in the Civil War. Meryl Streep also shines as the sisters’ wealthy aunt, who like Florence Pugh brings wonderful humor to the story.
Connecting many of the sisters is Timothée Chalamet’s Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, the soft-spoken and charming wealthy neighbor of the Marches who takes a romantic interest in both Jo and Amy during the story. Chalamet is at his best in roles that portray a vulnerable man who struggles to find love as he did in 2017’s “Call Me By Your Name.”
Greta Gerwig is at the peak of her powers as a filmmaker in this work. She confidently trusts herself with such a big story and cast and manages to execute a film that warms the soul. Releasing “Little Women” around the holidays was the perfect choice due to how vital a film like this is around such a time. This timeless tale of family and love can move even the most cynical of people. Thanks to the fresh adaptation by Gerwig who utilizes the film’s gorgeous costumes, elaborate production and charming score by the great Alexander Desplat, this adaptation is one for a new generation and a film that will be a classic amongst an already universal story.
Gerwig may have underused the character of Meg and undeveloped certain relationships between character duos, but this feel good film is too focused on its lovable characters to not enjoy it. This is a wonderful adaptation that is one of the best remakes of all time and one of 2019's biggest gems. No film has surprised me by how much I enjoyed it more than this in years.