Director/Writer Greta Gerwig brings fresh relevance to the storyline of an American classic that has stood the test of time for over 150 years.
Having read Little Women several times and watched two previous film versions, I had a good grasp of the plot and characters. Four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy—face the challenges of growing up in a financially-strapped home in the aftermath of the Civil War.
While author Louisa May Alcott reveals the exploits of the sisters in a linear fashion, Gerwig plays with the timeline, moving back and forth over a seven-year period.
Instead of starting with Alcott’s famous first sentence, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” Gerwig opens with a grown-up Jo (Saoirse Ronan) discussing her writing with a New York publisher.
This simple rearrangement of the plot establishes a major theme of the film: A woman’s search for artistic freedom. It also introduces Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel) as a more vibrant, attractive suitor than the disheveled older gentleman who suddenly appears midway through the novel.
Once established, the momentum of the film never lets up.
As the adult March sisters forge their individual career/relationship paths, well-placed flashbacks to their high-spirited early days provide insights into their dreams and struggles with issues of gender and freedom.
This film features the best young actresses of our time (interestingly enough all are international). In addition to Ronan’s brilliant portrayal of the fiery tomboy Jo, Florence Pugh delivers a feisty and magnetic Amy, and Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen infuse Meg and Beth with warmth and wit.
Laura Dern adds a unique dimension to Marmee (matriarch of the clan). Usually depicted as a quiet, self-sacrificing character, Marmee confesses, “I’m angry nearly every day of my life.”
A fan of great cinematic pairings, Gerwig couldn’t resist pairing Ronan with Timothée Chalamet as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence. Both actors delivered excellent performances in Lady Bird.
A sprinkle of Hollywood royalty, aka Meryl Streep as the imperious Aunt March, adds acerbic humor to this delightful period piece.