Movie Guru: Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ an incredible adaptation
Rated: PG for thematic elements and brief smoking
Screenplay by: Greta Gerwig, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott
Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper, and more
Grade: Four stars out of four
If you love “Little Women,” or even just sort of liked it, you have to watch this movie.
Adapted and directed by Greta Gerwig, the newest cinematic version of the classic Louisa May Alcott story is also the best one ever made. It shows a deep love and respect for the original story, acknowledges Alcott herself and manages to fix some of the plot and character problems even longtime fans of the story have trouble with. With a fantastic cast, led by the incomparable Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh, it’s an unforgettable experience that you’ll want to watch over and over again.
For anyone who might be unfamiliar with the book, “Little Women” follows four spirited sisters as they grow up during the Civil War. The main focus of the story tends to be on Jo, a headstrong young woman who wants to be a writer and isn’t great at following other people’s expectations. Though the book chronologically follows the girls into adulthood, the movie starts in what is traditionally the back half of the book and brings in the front half in the form of flashbacks.
Those flashbacks do wonders for strengthening the back half of the book, which is often seen as the weakest part even by people who love it. The restructuring gives the second half of the book more validity, allowing it to serve as the foundation of the story. The flashbacks are still just as meaningful, seen through the frame of the future, and in some ways even more poignant.
It’s the cast, however, that really bring life to the characters. Ronan is incredible as Jo, giving the character all the independence and daring she needs without sacrificing her emotions. She’s still the icon that so many bookish girls fell in love with when they were 12 — but a little more honest about some of the vulnerabilities the adult women revisiting her can relate to.
Timothée Chalamet is also really good as Laurie, giving him more of a wild, reckless quality that shows both why he and Jo bond so quickly and why they would never work together long term. The two have a wonderful chemistry together, but the actors and Gerwig manage to make it feel very young and impermanent. It makes their larger arc feel like the only logical conclusion to their story, rather than the bitter disappointment it feels like in many other versions of the story.
In many ways, though, Pugh is even more of a revelation as Amy. Traditionally, Amy has been one of the least-liked characters in the story, and her last-minute romance with Laurie has felt like a tacked-on afterthought. Here, though, Pugh gives Amy a spine of steel and a wonderfully complex view of the world. She and Chalamet also have their own independent chemistry, different from Laurie and Ronan’s but no less engaging. Gerwig also gives the relationship precious time to develop, allowing the audience to understand exactly why they fell in love.
Purists may dislike a few of the small flourishes included in the last third of the movie, but Gerwig makes them serve the larger story well. One flourish in particular serves as a meta-nod to Alcott’s own experiences with the book, a touch that adds another layer of depth to the movie as a whole.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at@wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.