Little Women is one of those stories that doesn’t age. It’s heartfelt, heartwrenching, and outright gorgeous. Even when the first feature length version was released back in 1994, it brought to life the sense of sisterhood that burns so brightly in the book. However, when Greta Gerwig announced her rendition of the beloved novel, complete with all-star cast, amazing composer and an Oscar-nominated director (herself), it’s not hard to see why people could barely contain their excitement.
If you haven’t read the book, please do. But if you don’t have time before you read this review, hereby commences the whistlestop tour of Little Women. It focuses around four sisters: Meg, the eldest; Jo, the most ‘boyish’; Beth, the most perfect; and Amy, the youngest and most divisive. It tracks their journey from youth to adulthood, along with their romances, heartbreaks, and tragedies. It’s one of those books that lingers like ink on your finger, like the smell of smoke after you blow out a candle. It sticks.
The book is nearly perfect; hence why it was so important to get the film right. Luckily, Greta Gerwig well and truly delivers a movie that lingers. It floats around the theatre, twirling like dancing dignitaries at a ball. The film, itself, is nearly perfect.
Somehow, Gerwig writes the March sisters as if they are her friends. Every move they make, every word they say, is perfectly in character, is truly and utterly correct. There is reason that two of them have been nominated for Academy Awards.
Saoirse Ronan’s Jo is fiesty, brave, and hot on the heels of the patriarchy. Ronan’s performative flair brings a true thespian out of Jo, from her sleepless nights spent writing, to her denials of love in idyllic fields. She is well and truly the Jo March we all deserved. Along with her comes Amy – a girl who, in the novel, was the most hated character, but in the film, has somehow become the most relatable. Played by Florence Pugh, she is set on providing for herself and her family, regardless of the implications it may have on her life. Plus, her speech that she makes to Laurie in her studio in France is truly breathtaking. All women should see this film just for the outbursts of true feminist genius.
Then, comes Beth. Elven-faced Australian Eliza Scanlen carefully slips into this role like a velvet dressing gown. Her heartbreaking portrayal as the kindest and most understanding sister, who is then taken ill, comes to a crescendo with one of the most poignant scenes in modern cinema. It’s genuinely lump-in-your-throat-so-big-that-you-might-sob-in-the-cinema sad. It’s one of the most solemnly beautiful scenes in the movie, and Gerwig and Scanlen handle it with great delicacy.
Other honourable mentions inclue Laura Dern’s Marmee – a truly fierce, yet kindhearted maternal figure who makes you feel constantly at ease – and Timothee Chalamet’s Laurie: someone who evokes bittersweet emotions in the novel, he plays into the character’s flaws. This only amplifies his beauties, when they do shine – and they definitely shine. He’s one of those characters whom you cannot help but to want.
The only lacklustre sister, is Meg. Played by Emma Watson, she fades into the background behind the starpower of her siblings. She’s lovely, full of optimism and the need to do the right thing, but she rings out saccharine instead of sweet. Even in the book, Meg had a bit more of a bite.
Behind the gorgeous acting of the sisters and their co-stars, soars the score. Composed by Alexandre Desplat, it brings the whimsy of teenage girlhood and the earnestness of great tragedy. It rolls backwards and forwards like the sea, crescendoing in piano solos and deep, gut pounding strings. It’s one of the best things about Little Women, because it punctuates every word that is said so gracefully.
Its genuinely breathtaking watching just how Gerwig has brought Little Women to life. It’s almost as though Louisa May Alcott herself, as ridiculous as that may be, has blessed the screenplay. It’s genuinely one of the best films that has been made in a long time, and it has well and truly outdone itself. Little Women is lightning in a bottle, with exactly the same beauty, and exactly the same spark.