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Little Women (2019) - Movie Review

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Little Women (2019)

Raise your hand if the news of yet another adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, Little Women coming to theaters on Christmas Day failed to jingle your bells. Okay, we can all put them down now. After all, with so many previous adaptations – including 1949’s version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh, 1994’s Susan Sarandon/Winona Ryder iteration, and let’s not forget 1978’s Meredith Baxter/Susan Dey TV mini-series slog-fest – you would be excused if the news failed to ping your radar.

"If you have never experienced the Little Women story either in literature or film, throw away your preconceived thoughts of it being some stodgy period costume drama"


Well, please allow me to allay your fears of enduring another dreadful interpretation such as last year’s modernization which starred Sarah Davenport and Melanie Stone. This new version, written and directed by Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), and starring Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Meryl Streep, and Timothee Chalamet is delightfully contemporary, yet totally sentimental. Gerwig revisits the material with a determination that affirms her personal intimacy with the original novel. Let me just go ahead and say it: This may very well be the best adaptation to date.

Gerwig puts her own unique spin on the classic tale which is first noticed early on as she forgoes the two-book format (published back-to-back in 1868 and 1869) and instead deploys flashbacks and flash forwards between the two halves with the central character of Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) providing the through-line between the two chapters. As you may recall, the first novel mainly focused on the March sisters in childhood, while the second book picked up with the girls as adults. Here, Gerwig’s story of four women looking back with affection at how they became who they are jumps around in time, focusing on the events, memories, and moments of creative inspiration that form the March sisters.

The film opens as we meet Jo, an ink-stained writer negotiating her way through the release of her first work with a dismissive book publisher who reminds the fledgling author that, “if there's female character, make sure she's married – or dead – by the end or no one will want to read it.”

With Gerwig’s voice of strength and empowerment established, we begin the swapping back and forth in time where we meet Jo’s sisters, would-be actor Meg (Emma Watson), sensitive musician Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and aspirational painter Amy (Florence Pugh) who we watch blossom into their full, complicated selves, while remaining united by sisterhood and driven by female empowerment.

Circling the powerful gravitational orbit of the girls are the practical mother, Marmee March (Laura Dern, fantastic here), conflicted rich boy Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, (Chalamet) who becomes entangled in a love triangle of sorts, Aunt March (Meryl Streep) who is planning to take Amy on a tour of Europe to broaden her painting skills, and German immigrant Friedrich (Louis Garrel), whose relationship with Jo becomes quite complicated.Little Women (2019)

Gerwig’s touches can also be felt in the way that she gives the story a contemporary feel despite its civil-war era setting. In fact, a valid argument can be made that due to Gerwig’s handling, Alcott’s original themes of discovering one’s identity might carry greater significance now than they did in the book’s original setting. It is a story about women finding their confidence to take their own paths though life. And what could be more timely in today’s post-metoo environment than that? Gerwig’s characters are very relatable to today’s audiences, and nothing about the film feels old fashioned. Take, for instance Jo’s earlier dealings with the book publisher. Swap book publisher with Hollywood mogul and it isn’t difficult to see the allusion to the plight of female filmmakers in today’s world.

If you have never experienced the Little Women story either in literature or film, throw away your preconceived thoughts of it being some stodgy period costume drama. Even if you’re already familiar with the story, give Gerwig’s twist a try. You’ll come away, like myself, assured that the critical success she received as writer and director of 2017’s Lady Bird was no lucky first strike. She is a superbly accomplished filmmaker who has answered any and all questions about her abilities behind the camera. Little Women is a superbly-crafted and inspirational retelling of the classic novel as well as a bold crashing of social barriers that makes as much noise today as it did some 150 years ago.

4/5 stars

Little Women (2019)

Blu-ray

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Home Video Distributor:
Available on Blu-ray

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Little Women (2019)

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and brief smoking.
Runtime:
134 mins
Director
: Greta Gerwig
Writer:
Greta Gerwig
Cast:
Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh
Genre
: Drama
Tagline:
Own Your Story.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Make it short and spicy. And if the main character is a girl, make sure she's married by the end... or dead."
Theatrical Distributor:
Columbia Pictures
Release Date:
December 25, 2019
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details avialable.
Synopsis: Four sisters come of age in America in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Little Women (2019)

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