I am often left stunned and speechless when my partner and I have this conversation, and it happens more often than you'd think; "Have you ever seen [insert movie title here]?", "No, but I've seen the sequel." Right?! It's like starting a book half-way through. Having said that, this incredulous reaction can also occur when a person prefers a cover song to the original, a remake over the OG, and then there's the never-ending book versus film adaptation debate. In reality, it's whichever you were introduced to first that ends up top of the podium. I was 10 years old when I first met the March sisters thanks to my youthful love of Winona Ryder. I must have watched that movie more than 20 times over the years. I even read the book because of the movie, and loved that too. As a kid, I related to Amy but admired Jo. In adulthood, I relate to Jo but wish I was still Amy, only less bratty. But herein lies the conundrum - can I really have an unbiased option on the glorious Greta Gerwig's latest adaptation given my unwavering love of the 90s feature? Probably not, but I'll try my best.
The four March sisters - each one a unique flower, yet thick as thieves with an unwavering love and bond for each other. Our protagonist Jo (Saoirse Ronan, 'Lady Bird') is an aspiring writer, who's as stubborn, tempestuous and smart as she is beautiful. She fills the March house with stories and plays for the sisters to act out, and does what has to be done and what is right to keep her family going. Meg (Emma Watson, the 'Harry Potter' franchise) is the eldest who dreams of being on the stage but also wealth, love and social acceptance. Beth (Eliza Scanlen, TV's 'Sharp Object') is a gifted pianist without ego, as she's also painfully shy and caring to a fault. And then there's Amy (Florence Pugh, 'Midsommar'), the baby. Impetuous and a bit of a brat yet funny, big-hearted, aspirational and playful. The tribe of sisters persevere through their formative years with their father away at war, as they navigate new love, new friendships, personal and professional setbacks, identity crisis and, of course, the never-ending trials and tribulations of being a woman in the 1860s. And then there's Laurie (Timothée Chalamet, 'Call Me By Your Name'), the wealthy neighbour who befriends Jo and then becomes the adopted brother to all until there's more to offer.
Here Gerwig has adopted a more feminist approach to the source material. The Academy Award-nominated director and screenwriter serves as both here as well and has chosen to tell the Louisa May Alcott tale in a non-linear fashion. She's also chosen to focus on Jo, not just her role within the family but society and the world as a whole, and the strength she has to muster to fight for her dreams and the will of women while also balancing her duty to her family and propriety. What Gerwig has constructed in her efforts is beautiful and inspiring, but does the original story suffer as a result? This isn't to say that Greta has forced or injected subjects, not at all. 'Little Women' is a multi-faceted and layered piece of literature, but for this fan, the appeal and love of the story always stemmed from the relationships and how they grow and change over time. As the story jumps around in this version, these relationships are not given their proper due and I was left wanting. It was also a massive sticking point for me that Amy wasn't portrayed by two actors. 23-year-old Florence Pugh, while wonderful, is hardly convincing as a 12-year-old. In her younger moments in the film, Amy is still written true to her age in the novel. Watching a grown woman behave as a bratty pre-teen was cringeworthy to watch. Having the role of Amy divided between two performers would have also helped better establish the differing time periods as the film moves back and forth. It often took longer than necessary to realise when we were watching in the moment.
Yes, this is the hundredth version of ‘Little Women’ to be adapted to the screen, so perhaps Gerwig can be forgiven for ditching the cookie cutter and creating for an audience with assumed knowledge.
Yes, this is the hundredth version of 'Little Women' to be adapted to the screen, so perhaps Gerwig can be forgiven for ditching the cookie cutter and creating for an audience with assumed knowledge. But a part of me still thinks about those who will be coming to this incredible story for the very first time like I did all those years ago, and it not having the same impact. The big moments in the film - be it love, loss or death - are no longer powerful but painfully inevitable because they're introduced from the beginning and then almost reverse-engineered.
I'm not discounting the new approached Greta has taken here. I personally think it's great and, in 2019, definitely poignant but it also shows too much respect for only one on-screen woman. I can't help but feel that, while serving one grand idea, Greta has caused a disservice to those other women in its wake.