Memories of reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott are distant. I remember feisty Jo and the warm and chaotic March family, full of charity for the poor and hopes for the future.
Greta Gerwig showed in Lady Bird (2017) that she understands female relationships and is clever in her adaptation of this much-loved novel by setting it in the future of the family with the relatively unspoiled narrative presented as flashbacks. It means she can provide a context for the audience for feminist Jo and give hope to the female characters beyond marriage or drudgery, compromise or poverty.
We begin with Jo (Saoirse Ronan) trying to sell her stories to editor Mr Dashwood (Tracy Letts). She has acquiesced to the need for a spicy stories where women can have adventures but must be married by the end of the story. For Jo, her purpose is not fame nor creative satisfaction but to provide money for her family – pathologically charitable Marmee (Laura Dern), dourly realist Meg (Emma Watson), ambitiously brattish Amy (Florence Pugh) and angelic Beth (Eliza Scanlen), as lovable as a fuzzy kitten.
On the periphery is entitled creep Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) who has long been in love with Jo, and their delightfully curmudgeonly Aunt March (Meryl Streep) who complains from the sidelines. Gerwig deftly weaves the story, shifting timelines with alacrity to intertwine parallel storylines with only minimal confusion. The movie is at its best when the four March girls are together, witticisms and family dynamics spinning around the effervescent character of Jo. Surprisingly, Amy emerges as the most interesting character, at first somewhat the antagonist but developing into a character of depth to rival the heroine.
Overall the feeling is one of the warmth and richness with only a few beats – the more didactic speeches – that feel inauthentic. The ending setup is artful and allows us to bask in the romance of a happy conclusion without compromising the ferocious independence of Jo.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.