The March sisters of the classic ‘Little Women’ come alive in a passionate, insightful remake.
Kernel Rating: 4 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 124 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 10+. This adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s American classic faithfully recreates many elements of the book, including the tragic death of one sister and the romantic complications of the others. Characters speak openly about marriage, love, and class differences; there are a few different proposal scenes, proclamations of love, and some kissing; characters drink at parties and balls, and a character is noticeably drunk at one event. The sisters sometimes fight, physically and otherwise; there is a reference to prostitution; one of the sisters is physically disciplined off-scene by a teacher; sick and dying children are discussed and depicted; the effects and causes of the Civil War are also discussed.
By Roxana Hadadi
Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” adapted previously in the 1990s with an all-star cast including Winona Ryder and Christian Bale, receives a lively, fresh adaptation for a new generation with Greta Gerwig’s version. Gerwig’s experimental take, which divides the novel into various timelines that it bounces back and forth between during the course of the film, adds clarity and wisdom to character developments and relationships that make the viewing experience more rewarding.
“Little Women” is the story of the four March sisters, from Concord, Massachusetts: eldest Meg (Emma Watson, of the “Harry Potter” franchise), second-eldest Jo (Saoirse Ronan, of “Brooklyn”), the younger Amy (Florence Pugh), and the youngest Beth (Eliza Scanlen). They live with their mother, whom they call Marmee (Laura Dern), in a cluttered, love-filled home, with their live-in help Hannah (Jayne Houdyshell), while their father (Bob Odenkirk) is away fighting for the Union Army.
The family is barely scraping by, which bothers Meg and Amy, but they are raised with affection and wisdom by Marmee, who teaches them generosity and altruism. Jo, fiercely sure of her own independence and unwilling to ever get married, concentrates on her plays and her writing, while the quiet, shy Beth is a whiz on the piano. In fact, all the girls are talented—Meg, an emotive actress; Amy, a skilled painter—and their squad swells when the young, carefree, affluent Theodore Laurence (Timothée Chalamet) moves in with his grandfather Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper) across the way.
The Laurences live in a gorgeous home and are phenomenally wealthy, and soon the lives of the two families are tangled up together. Jo and Teddy—whom everyone else calls Laurie—are inseparable, constant companions always causing a ruckus. Mr. Laurence is entranced by Beth’s skill at the piano, and invites her often to play for him. But the class divide between the family is omnipresent, as is the divide between the Marches and their wealthy Aunt March (Meryl Streep), who never married and who dangles her fortune over the girls as a bribe.
“Little Women” jumps back and forth between this early storyline, another seven years later, and intermittent stops in between to track the girls falling in love, struggling to make their way in a world that is so difficult for young women, and starting their own families. The result could be slightly confusing for younger viewers because some of the tells regarding the timeline shifts are difficult to grasp if you’re not paying full attention—although hairstyles and the quality of the girls’ and Laurie’s outfits are a good giveaway—but by doing this, Gerwig makes clear some of the ebbs and flows of this story.
Pairing together scenes that show how Jo and Laurie’s friendship develops and then falls apart, or demonstrate Amy’s early bratty qualities with her later worldliness, or give us time to get to know Beth, the quietest and gentlest of the sisters, help elucidate some of the film’s messages about companionship and forgiveness. And a framing device in which Jo is trying to sell a book to a publisher also draws viewers into the narrative as it makes clear that the story we’re watching is of the “Little Women” Jo is writing about, too, adding a nice meta-textual quality to the film.
The performances are universally excellent, especially Ronan, Pugh, and Chalamet, but Cooper and Dern also add maturity and wisdom to this story that otherwise is so passionately youthful. Gerwig’s “Little Women” is a version all generations can enjoy together.
“Little Women” is currently available for on demand rental through cable providers and streaming services.