I had never been a fan of period films, but they have been growing on me in the past couple of years, probably due to their modern retelling. Although I had seen previous incarnations of Little Women, I honestly never really connected with them. But it is only now with Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women did I feel that I could finally understand and relate to these iconic characters.
Gerwig, best known for her Academy Award nominated film Lady Bird, brings back Lady Bird cast members Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet together on the big screen to take on pivotal roles as Jo March and Theodore ‘Laurie’ Laurence in Little Women. Already a fan of both these actors from their previous works and of Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, I was quite excited to see this new version of Little Women.
The film follows the domestic struggles of the March family, set in Massachusetts 1861, during the American Civil War. While their father is away participating in the war, Marmee March played by Laura Dern is the head of the household and is the only one around to keep her daughters in line. Unlike other adaptations of the character, Gerwig’s version of Marmee March is emotional, loving and is in pain. Wanting to be useful, she inspires her children to be charitable, even though they aren’t financially comfortable, and volunteers a lot in town to try help as much as she can to assist in the war. Although appearing responsible and strong, she is in pain everyday and is angry that she has been somewhat abandoned to raise her four daughters on her own.
Meg March played by Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame is the eldest daughter of the family. She appears the most respectable and lady-like of her sisters. However, during a moment of weakness when Meg is invited to a lavish party, she lets herself be played with as a doll, with her rich acquaintances dressing her up and calling her by a pet name. Meg, wanting to go with the dream, and perhaps also ashamed of her true appearance with her own clothes, decides to go along with it. Despite her desire to try marry a rich man, she ends up marrying a tutor with not a lot of money to his name, and during the film is shown as struggling with her lifestyle by giving in to temptation, envying her rich friends who can afford a more exuberant living. Watson’s portrayal is completely understandable and emotionally relatable for anyone who has struggled financially for the things that they both want and need.
In many version of Little Women, I did not understand Beth as a character. Beth March has always been the quite character who is magnificent at playing the piano and has the weakest health, but apart from these three things, I always felt previously that there was not much more to her character. But Eliza Scanlen’s impressive portrayal of Beth is thoughtful, patient, kind, warm-hearted and unconditionally affectionate. While her sisters bicker amongst themselves, Beth, despite being the youngest, appears to be the most mature out of all of them.
When it comes to Amy March, admittedly, I have always hated her. I hate how she never really lets Laurie and Jo be alone, I hate how she always wants to copy Jo, I hate how she treats Jo when she doesn’t get what she wants, and I hate how spoilt she is. But Florence Pugh makes her character seem real.
When watching the film with my friend, we likened Amy’s character to our own younger sisters. The ones that don’t struggle with breaking the rules in life because you broke them first, the ones that want what you have worked so worked hard to get and want them immediately and at an age when you weren’t allowed to have them. Despite Amy March truly being a despicable, selfish villain-like character that never seems to suffer like everyone else does, she is very real and is the sister that you hate that isn’t your friend, and the one that doesn’t understand you because they’re too caught up with their own drama, but you love them anyway because they’re still your sister.
Florence Pugh’s portrayal of Amy isn’t all selfishness, but drive and determination much like her sister Jo, who she butts heads with a lot, only because they are so much alike with Amy learning by directly following and copying her sister. Pugh also has many funny scenes, and even though I hate Amy as a character, I found the unfiltered bluntness of Pugh’s Amy to be somewhat savage yet feverishly refreshing.
Of all the characters in Little Women, I connected with the second oldest sister, Jo March the most. She is the writer of the family (as am I in mine), is headstrong, determined, passionate and marches (pun intended) to the beat of her own drum. Not wanting to do what society expects of her, she desires to be an independent woman in a time where society’s expectations didn’t allow for a woman to be independent. Saoirse Ronan’s performance of Jo March is phenomenal and despite sharing the screen with a very talented cast including the likes of Meryl Streep who is captivating as rich Aunt March whenever she is on-screen, it is Ronan that is undeniably the true star of this film. I could really relate to her restless desire to live off her talents and conquer the writing world, despite her being born a female. Jo’s character screams for equality without ever needing to verbally address it, and I love that.
While I can relate to Jo’s determination and drive, it is her anger that I could relate to the most, when Amy burns a novel that Jo had tirelessly worked on. Being the eldest sister of my own family, these kinds of scenes are very real, where a sibling destroys something you love out of vengeance. Writing takes a long goddamn time and with Jo handwriting everything, I can only imagine how much time she would have spent on her novel, before it was destroyed. The anger and panic alone in Ronan’s facial expressions is incredible and really ignited my own anger, making me remember when these kinds of things happened to me with my own siblings during my childhood.
Not to be forgotten, Timothée Chalamet is completely charming as Laurie. My heart broke when he was denied by Jo, but his character is so aimless, somewhat lazy and emotionally heavily reliant on the March sisters, that I believe (finally) that Jo and Laurie could not have worked out. Considering he was never patient to wait for her to return from her writing venture in New York and decided to court her damn sister. For me, this whole thing is unforgivable, but I suppose we can’t all be as selfless and loving as the incredible Jo March, who I suppose is better off with the hot professor, Frederick Bhaer (Louis Garrel) anyway.
Cleverly told in non-linear fashion and based around themes, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is current, relevant, fierce, feminist, relatable, daring and flawless. The film not only made me feel empowered to be a women in modern times where society isn’t as constricting as it would have been in the 1860s, but at the same time it made me frustrated that so many dated social expectations of women are still ongoing today. I am ever so grateful to be reminded by Gerwig that I live in a time where I can make my own money and follow my desires, without compromise of my dreams nor love.
With a beautiful score composed by Alexandre Desplat, colourful costumes and fashion stylings that I wish were in my own wardrobe, and an insanely talented cast led by an impressive director, Little Women is a must-see for anyone who has felt that they had needed to fight for their place in the world, no matter how small.
Little Women will be released in all Australian cinemas from New Year’s Day 2020.