Greta Gerwig showed us in 2017 that she knows how to make a moving, powerful, and most importantly, realistic female coming of age story when she delivered Lady Bird. So it comes as no surprise that she was called upon to screen write and direct one of the most well known female coming of age stories out there. Translated into more than fifty languages, there are few places that Little Women hasn’t landed and fewer still people who haven’t been moved by some part of it. I know I was. I cried four times, and I’m still not sure if I’m embarrassed by that or not.
Jo’s gonna be ok, right?
The March sisters Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen), are our main characters with Jo being the narrative lead. Each actor takes to the role perfectly, embodying their characters, and bringing them to life. Even Amy, generally considered the least likeable sister is well played, and relatable. Joining these wonderful actors are Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, and Timothée Chalamet who all bring their best, and make even the unlikeable Aunt march (Meryl Streep) a delight to watch (even as you not so secretly disagree with her ruthlessness).
Gerwig took the story that Louisa May Allcott wrote, and mixed in a healthy dose of reality. Taking inspiration from Allcot’s life, Gerwig brought Little Women into a more modern time, not in setting, but in feeling, and this comes from the fact that the Allcott’s were an extraordinary modern family for their time. Described as an “intellectual hippie family” by Gerwig, the Allcott’s encouraged all of their children to see themselves as equals to men when that was not the given assumption, and while that is not as big an issues as it used to be, there is a universality to Jo March’s need to both find her place, and refuse to settle just because others tell her to.
They were no longer little girls, they were little women
As with any adaptation, a certain amount of love for the original text must be packaged into the work. Gerwig shows that love for Little Women in a variety of ways. Filing with 35mm film, rather than digitally, filming in Concord, and working closely with the Orchard House so that both she and her set designer could get a feel for the March/Allcott house.
What really set Gerwig’s Little Women apart is the mixed up timeline. Rather than telling the story chronologically, Gerwig jumps around, clearly linking the past and present, and showing the coming of age aspect of Little Women in a different light. Instead of the gradual change of characters as they grow, you are given up front the start and the end. Both ways show you the character journey, and the importance of it, but by telling it out of order the direct links between childhood and adulthood become so much clearer. It’s hard to stay mad at a bratty Amy, when in the next scene she is doing her best to marry well to provide for her family, and struggling with her own doubts and inadequacies.
Not so little extras
The Blu-ray release also comes with several features, all of which are rather delightful to watch, and definitely give an appreciation for how much work and care went into this retelling of Little Women.
• A New Generation of Little Women, A dive into the characters and the actors playing them, as well as Gerwig’s changes to the story and her inclusion of Allcott’s history into Jo’s character.
• Making a Modern Classic. A look into the process of making Little Women with a focus on the importance of the Allcott house, costumes, and using 35mm film in production.
• Greta Gerwig: Women Making Art. A deep dive into Gerwig’s process during filming, as well as her personal connection to Little Women.
• Hair & Make-Up Test Sequence. A glimpse of raw footage and pre-production design tests.
• Little Women Behind the Scenes. A ‘making of’ about the film, mostly repeating content front he other features, just to a lesser extent.
• Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott. A look around the house Louisa May Allcott grew up in with her sisters, the personality embedded in it, and how small parts of the real house made it into the movie, along with some of the house’s history.