Here’s where I confess that I forgot the plot of Little Women. Sure, I read the book as a kid. Yes, I’ve seen multiple film versions. I still managed to forget most of the story. I also managed to escape all but a teaser trailer for the film, so I didn’t walk into the theater with even trailer-based expectations. The good thing is that didn’t really matter. As soon as we were back in New England, the tale was familiar once again.
Little Women tells the story of the March sisters, living in Civil War-era New England. Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is the tomboyish writer. Meg (Emma Watson) has dreams of a grander life outside of the family’s genteel poverty. Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is shy and musical, while Amy (Florence Pugh) is the sometimes spoiled youngest member of the family. Watching the film, memories of the book started to flood back. That includes what happens to Beth, dammit. Although I still can’t claim a firm knowledge of the source material, I do think this movie will delight fans of the book.
The film starts with an adult Jo living in New York, then goes back to her life as a teenager in Concord. Little Women continues in this pattern throughout the film, shifting from the March sisters as teens to young women and back again as the story progresses. They also step just outside of the book’s pages to embrace the idea that Jo is Louisa May Alcott’s alter-ego, showing Little Women‘s journey from its earliest draft to a published novel.
Little Women is decidedly Jo’s story, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t get a proper story arc from each of the sisters. Amy, especially, gets a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal. Aunt March (Meryl Streep), Marmee (Laura Dern), and Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) give performances that make you wish the movie was an hour longer, just to give them more screentime.
From the writing to the acting, to the costumes and the sets, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women gives little room for complaint. I’m sure some purists will complain about the lack of a chronological story, but that change makes a story that is familiar (well, to most people) feel fresh and new. A visit to the theater to see Little Women this Christmas might be the best gift you can give to yourself this year.
About Little Women
Writer-director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) has crafted a Little Women that draws on both the classic novel and the writings of Louisa May Alcott, and unfolds as the author’s alter ego, Jo March, reflects back and forth on her fictional life. In Gerwig’s take, the beloved story of the March sisters – four young women each determined to live life on her own terms — is both timeless and timely. Portraying Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth March, the film stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, with Timothée Chalamet as their neighbor Laurie, Laura Dern as Marmee, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March.