There have been a lot of Little Women adaptations, and I will not list all of them here because, well, it’s my column, and I don’t want to. So there.
Anyway, most of you out there who go to the movies or watch them on that TV thing are probably most familiar with the 1994 adaptation that starred Winona Ryder, the little vampire from Interview with the Vampire (Kirsten Dunst) and Batman (Christian Bale). I recall liking that one. I mean, it had Batman and Vampire Girl in it, for God’s sake—and the girl from Beetlejuice!
Now comes the umpteenth adaptation of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel, and it’s safe to say this one is in the running for best adaptation of the story, ever.
Directed by rising directorial juggernaut Greta Gerwig (the magnificent, ultra-fantastic Lady Bird)—who has a vision with her films that declares, “Hey, we aren’t screwing around here!”—her third feature effort is an across the board stunner.
It’s a beautiful thing to look at due to some of the year’s best art direction and camerawork. It’s also chock-full of tremendous performances, and it’s written and directed by Gerwig, whose vision makes this an admirable update of a precious work.
Saoirse Ronan, who also starred in Lady Bird, headlines as Jo March, eldest sister of the March clan, which includes three others: Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen). Ronan, not surprisingly, makes the intrepid character of Jo her own, a budding writer who is trying to get her ideas past a crusty editor (Tracy Letts, who had a damn fine 2019).
Gerwig, in a departure from past adaptations, focuses more on the girls as adults, with flashbacks to their younger days. In doing this, she has chosen not to cast Amy with two different actresses. Pugh, who is well into her 20s, plays Amy at every stage, even falling through the ice as a pre-teen. I’d say that was an odd choice, but the other choice would be to have less screen time for Pugh, and I say a big no to that. Yes, she doesn’t look like she’s 12, but who cares? She’s a master in every scene.
Timothée Chalamet steps in for Batman as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, and there couldn’t have been a better choice for the role. His first dance with Jo, where they go a little crazy outside on a porch alone during a party, is as timeless as movie dancing gets. Chalamet has such skill and ridiculous amounts of charm with every line delivery that not a single second of his movie time is wasteful.
My one minor quibble about the movie? Gerwig is so damned ambitious with the way she shows the many timelines (out of chronological order), and there were definitely moments where I was a little confused. Again, it’s a minor quibble because even though it is occasionally confusing, it is always enjoyable.
In the end, this is how you do a period piece, damn it—a fresh take that makes you feel like you are seeing a story for the first time, even if you’ve seen that story multiple times before. And it provides that feeling of transportation to another time. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have Meryl Streep in your period piece. That’s always a good thing.
Driving it all home are characters that you root for, played by one of 2019’s greatest ensembles. All hail Greta Gerwig for bringing this group together in delightful, superbly entertaining fashion.
Up next for Gerwig? Possibly a Barbie movie with Margot Robbie. I am curious to see how that one pans out. It’s going to be interesting if it moves forward with Gerwig at the helm. It’s always interesting when she’s at the helm.