Greta Gerwig’s latest film “Little Women” is as witty, charming, and touching as expected. Based on the famous classic novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott, the movie constantly amuses and moves us as busily bouncing around its lovable main characters who are full of spirit and personality to delight us, and Gerwig also adds some delicious modern feminist touches to the story and characters while quite faithful to what makes Alcott’s novel so cherished by countless readers for more than 150 years.
The most notable change in Gerwig’s adapted screenplay is its non-linear episodic narrative alternating between two time points. During the opening scene, we meet Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) in New York City, 1868, and we see this young aspiring female writer trying to sell her latest story to her editor Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts). Although she manages to get it sold in the end, it is considerably edited by him, and, above all, she is paid less than she hoped, though he shows a bit of interest in whatever she is going to write next.
Meanwhile, we are also introduced to Jo’s three sisters: Meg (Emma Watson), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Amy (Florence Pugh). While Meg has been married for several years and also has two kids, Amy is traveling in Europe along with Aunt March (Meryl Streep) as being groomed to be a woman eligible for marriage, and Beth happens to go through another bout of sickness, which turns out to be quite more serious than before.
The movie glides back and forth between the present part and the past part, which is set in their hometown in Massachusetts, 1861. As their father is currently absent due to the ongoing Civil War, the March sisters are mainly taken care of by their kind and gentle mother, and a series of flashback scenes show us how boisterous the mood is whenever these four sisters hang around with each other in their plain but cozy house. Already full of the hope of becoming a successful writer someday, Jo frequently writes plays and stories, and her three sisters are certainly willing to perform her plays along with her.
Like many other adolescent girls around their age, the March sisters are very interested in romance, and the main focus of their romantic interest is Theodore “Laurie” Laurence (Timothée Chalamet), a handsome teenager boy living in a nearby mansion with his grandfather Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper). Thanks to one incident involved with Amy, the March sisters come to have a formal encounter with Laurie and his grandfather, and Laurie is subsequently invited to the March sisters’ private meeting.
As its main characters are gradually established, the movie generates the dramatic resonance between the past and the present via Gerwig’s sharp dialogues and keen understanding on characters, and it also often wields its wit and humor especially when it focuses on the dynamic interactions among the March sisters. We are frequently amused by the tempestuous clashes among their strong personalities, but then we are also touched by their deep bond based on love and understanding, and that is why more serious scenes later in the film are accompanied with considerable emotional effects.
In addition, the movie, which recently received six Oscar nominations including the one for Best Picture, is top-notch in technical aspects. The past and the present parts in the film are fluidly connected to each other thanks to the skillful editing by Nick Houy, the production design by Jess Gonchor and Claire Kaufman and the costume by Jacqueline Durran are superlative on the whole, and composer Alexandre Desplat, who has been steadily advancing since he drew our attention with his graceful score for “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (2003), provides another gorgeous score to enjoy.
Above all, Gerwig draws a bunch of enjoyable performances from her main cast members. While Saorise Ronan’s Oscar-nominated performance, which is packed with charm and pluck to be savored, here in this film reminds us again that she is one of the most talented actresses in her generation, Florence Pugh, who had another wonderful year thanks to her various performances in “Fighting with My Family” (2019), “Midsommar” (2019), and BBC TV mini-series “The Little Drummer Girl”, deservedly garnered a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her bouncy performance here in this film, and Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen, who was excellent in her supporting turn in HBO miniseries “Sharp Objects”, are equally solid in their respective roles. In case of the other notable main cast members in the film, Laura Dern warmly exudes generosity and compassion as the mother of the March sisters, and Timothée Chalamet, Louis Garrel, and James Norton are well-cast as three possible suitors around the March sisters, while Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper are dependable as usual with each own small moment to shine.
Thanks to the big critical success with her second feature film “Lady Bird” (2017), Gerwig has quickly risen as another interesting American filmmaker to watch, and “Little Women” delightfully demonstrates that she is a genuinely talented one who will entertain and impress us more in the future. As reflected by the finale which deviates a bit from Alcott’s novel, she is surely in full control of her story and characters just like Jo, and the result is another home run in her remarkable filmmaking career.