Little Women. Directed by: Greta Gerwig. Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh. Runtime: 2h 15 min. Released: December 25, 2019.
Jo March (Saiorse Ronan) reflects back and forth on her life, telling the beloved story of the March sisters – four young women each determined to live life on their own terms.
Set during the Civil War, I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy Little Women because period films are hit-or-miss for me. It’s hard to define this as only a period film as it’s such a timeless story. I loved it from the scene and really loved it when Jo started to look back on her life and all four sisters are together. These scenes are the best for me, but the scenes work in both past and present.
It works so well because all the performances are brilliant. Saoirse Ronan is the perfect Jo March as a character hungry for her own independence and adamant about keeping it. She’s headstrong and likable. She’s passionate and personal, and it’s so interesting that she doesn’t want to marry, given societal expectations. Instead, her love affair is with her writing and Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrell) is secondary to it. And man, Ronan headlines this ensemble so well.
Emma Watson plays Meg March, the oldest March sister. She doesn’t marry rich and we see her struggles with that. Watson is as charming as ever as Meg. Florence Pugh as Amy March shines. She’s the March sister that is most in the shadow of Jo, and spends much of the film in Europe.
This is one of Pugh’s many great performances this year and she’s quickly becoming one of my favourites. She plays to such a range here, especially since she’s only supposed to be 20 years old in the present, so when Jo reflects, Pugh convincingly plays a 13-year-old character. It works because of what she does with her voice and her attitude, even though Pugh obviously doesn’t look 13 years old.
Eliza Scanlen also does well as the youngest sister, Beth, and Scanlen is really the only actress whose name I didn’t know (now I know I recognize her from TV’s Sharp Objects). She plays the quiet character perfectly and some of the scenes where she plays piano over at Mr. Laurence’s (Chris Cooper) house are so, so good. It’s fascinating watching these sisters and their ups and downs, each wanting different things. Their chemistry is also what helps make the film so damn entertaining.
Laura Dern is also perfect as the matriarch, Marmee March. The character’s compassion is obvious from the first scene and Dern is just so believably selfless and kind in the role. The fact that she can play someone so human and turn around and play a devilish lawyer in Marriage Story shows her just how versatile she can be.
Timothée Chalamet also makes for a great Theodore “Laurie” Laurence here as he befriends the March sisters and becomes a key part in some of their lives. Meryl Streep also shows up as Aunt March, and the fact that Streep’s performance here is maybe the seventh best at worst just shows how many great performances director Greta Gerwig is able to get out of her stars.
Greta Gerwig seems to write the perfect adaptation here. I say “seems” because I haven’t read the source material (by Louisa May Alcott) nor seen the 1994 film, but I don’t know how this can get any better. With the performances and writing, I absolutely fell in love with the March family here as the film went on. Gerwig depicts the time so effortlessly and their struggles as women in that day in a way that’s easy to understand through its dialogue. The look and the feel of the film is so well-directed to a point where by the end of the film you’ll feel like part of the family.
There are so many funny and heartbreaking scenes here, too. There are just so many poignant and emotional scenes hear that worked that I was at least choked up a lot. The performances and music and everything about it make this so charming, and when a film is this good, I just have a big smile on my face and am close to tears whenever there’s a moment that really works for me. And let me tell you, a lot of these character beats worked for me because it’s so well-written and the cast sells every moment.
I knew nothing about the March sisters before this but now I feel like I’m part of the family, and this is a special film. I thought this film would be good but I didn’t even see the trailer, so I was surprised when this ended up being my favourite film of 2019.