LITTLE WOMEN. Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothee Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep. Directed by Greta Gerwig. Rated G (Very mild themes).135min.
This American family-drama tells the story of four sisters growing up in America after the end of the Civil War. The film is loosely based on the iconic volume of work published in 1868 and 1869 by Louisa May Alcott, her two volumes being later issued as a single novel in1880. The 1880 version is the novel on which the film is based. It details the journey from childhood to womanhood of the author of the novel and her three sisters.
Louisa Alcott’s story is semi-autobiographical. The movie is set in Boston, and the March sisters struggle to overcome poverty. The Director of the movie, Greta Gerwig - who delivered the much acclaimed “Lady Bird” in 2017, has scripted the film, and this is the eighth adaptation of Alcott’s work.
In this film, four close-knit teenage sisters live with their mother, Marmee (Laura Dern) in threadbare lodgings in Massachusetts, USA. Meg (Emma Watson), the oldest of the March sisters is swayed by material temptations; Joe (Saoirse Ronan) is a fiercely independent, kind-hearted sister who is a key figure in the film; Beth (Eliza Scanlen) loves music and is shy and retiring; while Amy (Florence Pugh) is purposively ambitious and elegantly social. “Little Women” clearly takes place in a woman’s world, and male figures move in and out of it.
All the March sisters and their mother wait for their beloved father (Bob Odenkirk) to return from the war, where he served as a chaplain. He went off to the war, leaving his wife and daughters behind, and he returns to a welcoming family that he dearly loves.
The movie targets the girls on the brink of womanhood, and for the most part bypasses tales from their childhood. It is Jo, who is the intended version of Alcott herself, and Meryl Streep plays the family’s Aunt March. Echoing Alcott’s original novel(s), male characters in the movie are not central to the film, which doesn’t stop the girls journeying into the territory of “should I get married”. However, the decision to marry doesn’t necessarily abate their motivation to be independent. This version of “Little Women” maintains the full degree and subtlety of the family’s motivation for each member to be their own person.
All of the March girls are strong-minded young women wanting to pursue happiness in their chosen way. While Aunt March urges the girls to marry “appropriately”, their mother urges them to choose their own paths. Aunt March reminds the girls that their “reduced circumstances” are largely due to the poor efforts of their father who lacked the skill or foresight to handle their finances well. They hear her words, and each of them resolves to come to her own decision.
The film as a whole is a conventional telling of Alcott’s story, but it is beautifully mounted and presented. Characters are given the modern touch by Director, Greta Gerwig, and the film anchors itself firmly to the March family home. The warm family glow is captured brilliantly by Saoirse Ronan who plays the part of Jo extremely well. It is largely through the character of Jo that Greta Gerwig freshly interprets the novel’s story in a way that accentuates the complexity of all of the main characters.
The film is acted, photographed and directed beautifully. It pays special tribute to Alcott’s work, while repackaging it to stress its modernity. In this film, period-settings are assimilated to Greta Gerwig’s vision, but never lose their significance, and Gerwig creatively sets key scenes as if they were reproductions of famous paintings - such as Edvard Munch’s “The Sick Child” where she uses Munch’s painting to show Beth in bed, and a grieving mother bent in sorrow over her.
This is a film that is visually and dramatically vibrant, and a powerful tale of female liberty.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released January1, 2020