Little Women Movie Review: Greta Gerwig's adaptation would have made Louisa May Alcott beam with pride

Little Women Movie Review: Greta Gerwig weaves feminine modernity to a classic tale of the famous March sisters while Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen's stunning performances are relatable even in the 21st century. Read the full review of Little Women below.
Little Women is slated to release in India on February 7, 2020.Little Women is slated to release in India on February 7, 2020.
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Little Women

Little Women Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen

Little Women Director: Greta Gerwig

Little Women Stars: 4/5

"Women... they have minds and they have souls as well as just hearts. And, they’ve got ambition and they’ve got talent as well as beauty and I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it. But, I'm so lonely," Jo bellows with defeated frustration at her mother Marmee in Greta Gerwig's retelling of the classic Little Women tale by the late master storyteller, who was way ahead of her time, Louisa May Alcott. While the essence of Louisa's celebrated work remains the same, Greta uses some creative liberties to concoct a universal tale where every young woman of the 21st century can relate to 19th century March sisters - Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth.

For the ones who haven't read the classic, Little Women is based primarily on Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) and her three sisters Meg March (Emma Watson), Amy March (Florence Pugh) and Beth March (Eliza Scanlen). Flashing back and forth between their restless teenage years to their coming of age adulthood, we are shown how each woman has a common barrier in front of them, which was being a 'woman' in the Victorian era and the limitations they have to oblige to. Jo is a free-spirited bird whose ambitions are truly malicious for the world to welcome. We see that in the very beginning when she is trying her damndest to sell her work to Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts), the latter of whom insists on either marrying or killing the titular female character in Jo's story. When asked for the author's name, Jo opts to remain anonymous as it would upset her mother, Marmee March (Laura Dern).

Over the span of two hours. Greta's direction, Louisa's words and Saoirse's nuanced performance breathe a new lease of life to a beloved literary character like Jo. Jo's inner conflict of craving independence, her loyalty to family, her 'he loves me, I don't love him' equation with Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) while also seeking for companionship is the core eccentricity of what Greta tries to achieve with Little Women. Ronan's mature yet frilly performance adds depth in the right rebellious manner. In stark contrast, yet an equally compelling performance is breakout star Florence as the vivacious Amy. Book lovers may not be the biggest Amy fangirls but Pugh beautifully transforms from the bratty, aloof teenager to a head-strong, accommodating young woman in a matter of seconds, given Gerwig's non-linear storytelling. It's a performance that stands by itself proudly, and even Amy would tip her hat for Florence.

While Saorise and Florence eat up most of the praises for Little Women, Emma and Eliza deliver underrated acts as Meg and Beth and are equally relatable, in spite of the disproportionate screen presence. As Meg, Watson brings to life, problems of a housewife, who has devoted her entire life to a loving husband like John Brooke (James Norton) and her two children, while dreaming of expensive dresses as her 'alter-ego' Daisy. On the other hand, Eliza, as Beth, is okay with being in the shadows, despite being a talented piano player and strikes an unlikely bond with Laurie's uncle Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper). It's the honest subtlety with which Scanlen brings Beth to the silver screen, especially when she comes to terms with the fact that death is imminent, which is heartbreaking yet refreshing.

Another scene-stealer and adding balance to an overall feminine power is Timothée, who is enamoured by the concept of the March family as he is an orphan himself. It's the smaller moments, like when Laurie is encaptured by Marmee's presence around her four daughters and the instant emotion of loneliness that erupts all over his face that sets his character apart from the stereotypical macho Mr. Darcy kind of lover boys. It's also the frustration of his heartbreak over Jo dismissing his proposal to being told off by Amy to not use her for the empty spaces in his life that showcase how Laurie is just an innocent boy, looking for someone to love and cherish him, with Chalamet delivering in spades. While I may get flack for saying this but Laura's performance as Marmee in Little Women may even trump her scene-stealing supporting act in Marriage Story, the latter of which could make her win her first-ever Oscar. It's the extreme subsidence with which Dern portrays Marmee, as well as the character, being the mirror of Jo herself that adds a maternal finesse to Little Women. Just like Mary Louise Wright in Big Little Lies, the snarkiness in Meryl Streep comes sweeping through as she has the time of her life playing the conservative while having modern ambiguity, Aunt March.

You'd think Little Women relies heavily on coattails of the versatile cast and while partly true, it's the balance between Yorick Le Saux's classic cinematography and Alexandre Desplat's playful score that equally comes shining through. While Little Women is a near-masterpiece, those who haven't read the novel may be left a bit lopsided by the constant back and forth in the time period but Nick Houy's editing manages to keep the essence of both time periods, distinctly contradicting. Nick must thank Jacqueline Durran for her detailed costume designing that sets each March sister apart, depending on their varied personality traits; from the contradictory colour palette to Jo's wardrobe to the well-balanced colour tones in Amy's teenage and womanly costumes. And, how refreshing was it to see them actually being able to breathe in her dresses while still looking classy and radiant.

ALSO READ: Golden Globes: Marriage Story's Noah Baumbach says THIS on partner Greta Gerwig's Little Women being snubbed

Just like Louisa May Alcott's 1868 Little Women, Greta Gerwig's Little Women's strongest suit is the powerful words and dialogue that transform prose into a pleasing visual and show us a sense of feminine awakening through the characters. Gerwig's controversial decision to end her version by distancing Jo from the ingrained happy ending with Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel) and instead focusing on Jo's true dream, which was writing a best-selling novel, while owning the copyright herself. "If I’m going to sell my heroine into marriage for money, I might as well get some of it," Jo quips with seriousness to an irate Mr. Dashwood. It's the decision to leave an ambiguous open ending whilst giving Jo her desired happy ending, which isn't solely being someone's wife or having children, that speak volumes.

After seven film adaptations to Alcott's work, I can truly say Greta Gerwig's version of Little Women is what the late author would have been the proudest of; Oscars be damned!

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"Louisa's words and Sairose's nuanced performance" Oooops!

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