Little Women delights

Little Women thrust into the spotlight. Wikimedia Commons

Gerwig gets it right

By Hannah Senicar, Copy Editor

Following the success of her critically-acclaimed solo directorial debut, Ladybird (2017), Greta Gerwig’s Little Women surpasses expectations, delivering a tender yet courageous adaptation that honours the Louisa May Alcott classic. Gerwig’s contemporary restructuring of the story – organizing vignettes thematically in favour of the two-part chronological narrative of the novel – emphasizes life’s inherent unpredictability, immediately indicating how quickly expectations for the future can be subverted. The film specifically ruminates on what it is to grow up a woman in a male-dominated world, a question as timely in the year 2020 as it was in the 1860s (in fact, substitute “woman” with “anyone who isn’t a white, cis, straight male,” and find it doubly important).

Set during the American Civil War, Little Women centres around the four March sisters: Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Amy (Florence Pugh) as they navigate their demanding, pastoral youths. Having lost a great portion of their financial means, and with their father (Bob Odenkirk) serving as a pastor in the Union Army, they and their mother (Laura Dern) attempt to make the most of the situation; the girls engage in follies with their rambunctious neighbour, Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), and the ensemble cast brings great vitality to the domestic setting, offering a sibling dynamic that is at once charming and incredibly believable.

Saoirse Ronan is a standout as boyish and temperamental Jo, who functions as a fictionalized version of Alcott in this film even more so than in the novel. Pugh brings delightful range and humour to the character of Amy, doing the youngest March justice in both youth and maturity. Chalamet likewise masters Laurie’s whimsical and impulsive character and, while Dern and the rest of the cast were all excellently suited to their parts, I would be remiss not to highlight Meryl Streep’s fantastic portrayal of crusty-yet-caring Aunt March.

Far from mere background music, Alexandre Desplat’s score is almost a character of its own, swelling over the film’s atmospheric scenes. Steady piano melodies escort enchanting and sometimes hectic string orchestration, seeming to reflect little Beth’s role as the March family’s quiet, yet consistent, conscience to great emotional effect. The film also features a diverse and rich colour palette, which nicely accompanies the story’s frequent changes in time and mood.

Gerwig’s contemporary take on Little Women leans into the novel’s feminist message, emphasizing and contextualizing the role of marriage as an “economic proposition,” and adding a metanarrative that pays homage to Alcott’s personal views and writing career. The product is a film as rousing as it is affirming. Little Women is a visually sumptuous, emotionally abundant adaptation that only further distinguishes Greta Gerwig as a masterful writer and director.

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