This was my first exposure to Little Women. I have not seen any of the previous movies nor read the Louisa May Alcott novel. I am a big fan of Greta Gerwig’s big-screen debut, Lady Bird. Lady Bird also features Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet. This trio is as amazing as ever. Saoirse portrays Jo March and Timothée is Laurie. They are perfectly cast and bring excellence to their performance we have come to expect.
I think I benefited coming into this movie blind. Gerwig re-arranged the book to jump back and forth between the childhood portion and the young adult portions. There isn’t any de-aging technology or prosthetics used to show the passage of time. Instead, the cinematography clues you into what time you are witnessing. When the girls are children, the lighting is warm and the colors vibrant. When they return home in adulthood the light is harsh and cold. The colors are muted. This is most obvious between Beth’s two bouts with sickness.
Beth is played by the baby-faced Eliza Scanlen. She is three years and three days younger than Florence Pugh; who plays Amy. I struggled to keep it straight that Beth is older than Amy. This may have been the biggest mistake in the casting. Beth is a side character. She is portrayed as this angelic child, wise beyond her years because of her bout with scarlet fever. She works as a vessel for Jo’s growth. There is not much for Eliza to do in this film, so anyone could really have played the part.
Meg March, played by Emma Watson, is also a side character to the Jo and Amy focus of the movie. We all know how good of an actress Emma Watson is. Her on-screen time is fine for the small role she is given. She is a great contrast to Jo’s free-spirited and wild personality. I don’t think Emma would have fit in as well in any other role, so I am glad she was included in the cast.
This movie revolves around Jo and Amy. I disliked Amy as a person because of her actions. I have a younger sister, so perhaps some of Amy’s antics hit a little close to home and reminded me of some of the most annoying things my sister did when we were growing up. None of that is to say, Florence Pugh wasn’t fantastic in her portrayal. My dislike for this fully-fledged character is because of how good her portrayal is. I struggled at times during the movie to see Amy’s motivations at the moment. Looking back after completing the movie or being familiar with the source material would certainly have had me more aware of Amy’s intentions. Her actions were incredibly infuriating, and I found myself actively rooting against her more than once. Florence Pugh was just that good.
Saoirse Ronan brought some of her Lady Bird flair to the role of Jo. She is building a solid body of work with Greta Gerwig. The devil-may-care attitude found in Lady Bird carries over with Jo. I can’t think of a better actress for this role. Jo’s passion and inability to compromise on anything is infuriating at times and endearing at other times, much like Lady Bird. Saoirse deserves an Oscar nod for this performance, as does Gerwig for getting this much out of the cast.
Timothée Chalamet is falling into a bit of a type-cast. It fits in this movie, but he isn’t breaking new ground, he is just giving you the same fantastic performance we have all come to expect to see from him. His choices throughout the movie are also infuriating at times; just like Amy and Jo. I spent a lot of time during the movie being pissed off at the various leads because of their stupid choices. Again, this level of reaction is rare and wonderful.
Laura Dern, as Marmee, and Meryl Streep, as Aunt March, don’t overpower the young cast. They are good additions and Gerwig keeps their star power in check to not overshadow the main characters. The reveal of who the father is was shocking. He was not who I expected to see, and you shouldn’t spoil it for yourself either.
I hope that every couple of years Greta Gerwig can work with Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet. She is on a hot streak that I hope continues. These are not just movies for girls or women, they are for everyone. It is important that Greta, a female writer/director, continues to get studio support. It is also important that more stories that are female-focused are put on the big screen. It is important that movies like this are available to the next generation of writers, directors, and actresses. Go support this work and enjoy a wonderful film.