Review: Little Women

Director: Greta Gerwig
Little Women is showing at the Historic Theater February 21-27.

As a child of the 90s, the 1994 Gillian Armstrong-directed Little Women was a staple of my childhood. Knowing and loving that version made me both nervous and excited for Greta Gerwig’s new take on the classic Louisa May Alcott novel. Gerwig tells the story by jumping from Jo March trying to work as a writer in New York to her childhood in Massachusetts with her sisters—Meg, Beth, and Amy—and her best friend and next-door neighbor Laurie.

Gerwig has such a fresh and different take on this story that it almost watches as a different film as the sisters all attempt to live a life of their own choosing. Of course, you still have the classic scenes—Jo’s haircut, Amy falling into the ice, Beth’s piano—but she allows each actor to breathe a little more life into their roles than previously. Saoirse Ronan as the main character Jo is a force and she channels real frustration into her portrayal as a woman in the 1860s. She is fervently angry with being held back by her gender and having the only expectation of her be to marry well. She is a great heroine for a young girl at an impressionable age to see. Emma Watson gives the eldest sister Meg a real sense of disenchantment with her marriage to a poor teacher when she always dreamed of fitting in with the wealthy society women. Eliza Scanlen’s Beth is a bit less of a scared mouse and more of a homebody, and Florence Pugh’s Amy is a breath of fresh air. I have always disliked Amy as a character but Pugh’s acting and Gerwig’s words allow her to vocalize her unhappiness and her dreams instead of just being shown as a petulant child. She still does the terrible things she has always done but the audience understands her behavior more and she reads far more sympathetic. Timothée Chalamet brings youthful energy to Laurie and his chemistry with Saoirse Ronan makes for some funny and heartbreaking moments. My only real issue with the casting was Florence Pugh at 22 reads her age—this works when she plays adult Amy but less so when she is 13-year-old Amy. She makes up for it with her portrayal of a teenager. There are also a slew of wonderful supporting performances including Laura Dern as strong but scared Marmee and Chris Cooper as a far more vulnerable Mr. Lawrence than I imagined.

Greta Gerwig’s script feels appropriate for the time period and yet relevant to today. Young people are able to watch this story and identify with the varying needs and desires of the sisters no matter the time period. I did, however, have some issue with Gerwig’s choice for Friedrich. Louis Garrel’s role as Jo’s love interest is underdeveloped and while some people may not mind since he is a secondary character, I found that I needed more story to care for or root for his character. Overall if you are someone who loved this story in any form in your youth (or even if you are new to it), come on out. Enjoy a bit of a cry and some storytelling at its finest.