Greta Gerwig's take on Little Women follows the March sisters as they come of age in America during the aftermath of the Civil War.
Louisa May Alcott's novel Little Women has been made into a film several times in the past, most notably in 1933 with Katharine Hepburn and in 1994 with Winona Ryder.
Now, the classic story has been adapted for the big screen again, with writer-director Greta Gerwig taking the helm and unveiling a smart, feminist interpretation perfectly suited for audiences in 2019.
Though the plot sticks fairly closely to the source material, Gerwig's Little Women focuses more on investigating key themes. She also interestingly introduces the March sisters as young adults rather than as teenagers.
Central character Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) is an aspiring author trying to make enough money to support herself, Meg March (Emma Watson) is married to John Brooke (James Norton) and has two young children, Beth March (Eliza Scanlen) wants to pursue a career in music, and Amy March (Florence Pugh) is studying art in Paris under the watchful eye of the girls' wealthy Aunt March (Meryl Streep).
But as each of the women follows their individual passions, and encounters challenges along the way, Gerwig carefully intersperses flashbacks linking back to their lives as teens growing up in 1860s New England shortly after the American Civil War.
All of the critical scenes from the book are included, from the ice pond to the physical fights, and in order to differentiate the flashbacks, the director gives the present a cool blue/grey tone, while the past is washed in much warmer, golden hues. If there's anything to criticise, it's maybe that there are a few too many flashbacks.
Sure, purists may have issues with the unconventional structure, but Gerwig's take also allows the viewer to see the characters grow, much more than any previous film.
Even with Father March (Bob Odenkirk) away, the patriarchy overshadows all of their lives, with each trapped by gender conventions and societal norms, as well as the overwhelming pressure to find a husband.
We see Jo, brilliantly portrayed by Ronan, as a frustrated teenager trapped by her environment, overcome any fears she may have had and determinedly go after her dream of becoming a published author, even if it means making some hard choices along the way.
Meg, who could have married any society man, chooses true love, and Beth devotes herself to the piano, but perhaps the most intriguing transformation comes from Amy - often expected to remain forever as the annoying youngest child - become torn between the burden of protecting her sisters and mother, marrying the right man, and tempering her feelings for the boy next door and Jo's potential romantic interest Laurie (Timothee Chalamet).
The love triangle between Jo, Amy, and Laurie is fascinating, with a scene between the latter two located inside of an art studio proving to be especially engaging.
And unlike the other adaptations, the supporting characters all add dimension, with Streep reliably brilliant as the cuttingly clever Aunt March, Laura Dern as the gentle yet wise matriarch Marmee March, Louis Garrel as kind professor Friedrich Bhaer, and Tracy Letts as grumpy publisher Mr. Dashwood.
In addition, Gerwig puts her own spin on the ending, but rather than setting out to shock the viewer, her choice of conclusion offers a satisfying element to Jo's story which edifies and inspires.
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