Little Women is the 7th adaptation of the book of the same name on the screen. Was yet another adaptation necessary? I believe it was and here is why.
Most of us know the beloved story of the March sisters – four young women each determined to live life on their own terms in a post-civil war America. No one however has seen an adaptation similar to this one brought to us by writer/Director Greta Gerwig.
This adaptation is very different to previous ones because of its original structure. Gerwig changed the order of the story, introducing us to the older little women and bringing us to their childhood through flashbacks. I love this different take on the story because I feel that it brings forward some key themes of the text such as the beauty of childhood, and the nostalgia we grow up with. Things are never the same when we grow up and this structure reminds it painfully to Jo (Saoirse Ronan) and the viewer. Another subtle difference in the writing was the choice to mix the stories of Jo and the story of Louisa May Alcott the writer of Little Women. Louisa May Alcott didn’t want Jo to marry anyone but the publisher refused to print the book if Jo didn’t end up “dead or married”. Greta Gerwig decided to give justice to Alcott’s wish by showing Jo having to face a similar choice for her novel. The film begins and ends with a negotiation between Jo and her publisher revealing what this film is about. It’s not about looking for love, it’s simply about growing up as a woman in a world where money is everything, a world Louisa May Alcott struggled to navigate in for her entire life.
Another more subtle change that truly enhanced the story for me was the choice to focus on every sister and not simply Jo, the novels narrator. Jo is the drive of the novel and she is the character most readers often identify with. She is a rebellious, dynamic and ambitious writer who has no intention of marrying anyone despite the pressure. Saoirse Ronan plays her magnificently and shows subtly how complicated it is grow up as a young girl with ambition. In all previous adaptations, Jo’s personality was always much more celebrated than the other girls. In Gerwig’s ‘script, Jo doesn’t steal but shares the limelight with the other little women. Every viewer can find a character to relate to in the different type of women celebrated in this story through the March sisters. Meg (Emma Watson) is kind, gentle and loving. She has a small weakness for luxury and leisure but she always overcomes it because she is morally vigorous. Amy (Florence Pugh) is clever, charming but also self-centred. She is the perfect lady because it pleases her and those around her. She understands the world she lives in and decides to play along with the rules in order to try and get the best future possible. Finally Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is “the quiet one, she loves music, she always tries to please other people, and like Jo, she is concerned with keeping the family together.
They all have flaws and strengths and different views on life. Every dreams, hope and troubles of the characters are shown with empathy. Meg might have love but she would like better dresses, Amy might always get privileges but she still constantly compares herself and feels inferior to her big sister Jo. Jo doesn’t understand Meg’s decision to get married but Meg explains that that’s her dream, that’s what she wants. No girl is right or wrong, they are just different.
These women are all inspirational on their own but it is when they are brought together that they shine the most. My favourite scene portrays this beautifully through acting, dialogue and staging. When the three men living opposite to the March house find a crying Amy, they invite her in their house while her mother (Laura Dern) comes to pick her up. Their calm and manly household is suddenly turned upside down by the entrance of all the little women. This scene introduces us to all the dynamics that will be essential in the rest of the film: Amy likes Laurie, Laurie like Joe, Joe likes the fancy books in the house, Laurie’s tutor John Brooke likes Meg, Meg is worried about Amy…. So much is going on in two minutes and through the editing and acting we notice it all! A beautiful energy emanates from the sisters. Gerwig wrote the dialogue so that the lines overlapped each other in the script, the sisters are constantly talking over each other which creates a sense of dynamism and familiarity between the characters that is delightful to watch. The scene ends magnificently when all the women leave the room. The three men are left alone in this empty room that felt filled with life, love and laughter one second earlier.
This ability to create natural, dynamic and fun scenes does not only come from the script. The cast is perfect. Emma Watson, Eliza Scandeln, Matt Morton, Thimothee Chalamet, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep ad everyone else perfectly grasped their characters essences. Some people argued that the male characters are too pretty in the film compared to the descriptions in the novel but Greta Gerwig argued that in most films, the average female love interest is often younger and much prettier than the lead, so she didn’t see a problem with her choosing good looking male characters. Saorise Ronan and Florence Pugh’s performances particularly stood out to me. Florence Pugh might be the first ever actress to have convinced the audience Amy wasn’t only a pretentious little girl.
So was yet another adaptation of Little Women necessary? Amy explains in this film why it was. When Jo wonders “who will be interested in a story of domestic struggles and joys? It doesn’t have any real importance, does it?” Amy answers “Maybe, it doesn’t seem important because people don’t write about them.” So yes, this Little Women is necessary because it is a fun and touching story but also because it is about young girls growing up and becoming strong independent women, a vision we need more of in mainstream cinema.
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