VOD film review: Little Women (2019)
James R | On 23, Dec 2020
Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s seminal novel is a gorgeously composed masterpiece. That’s partly because it understands what makes Louisa May Alcott’s book such a treasured masterpiece to begin with – but also because it’s not afraid to do its own thing to communicate exactly that.
Gerwig, who co-wrote Frances Ha and Mistress America before penning the heartfelt coming-of-age gem Lady Bird, really comes into her own with this confident, thoughtful adaptation. Her script takes the tale of the four March sisters – the sensible Meg (Emma Watson), earnest would-be writer Jo (Saoirse Ronan), timid and fragile Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and boisterous artist Amy (Florence Pugh) — and folds the book’s two halves in on each other, turning a linear coming-of-age story into a flowing, timeless cycle of growing up.
It’s a breathlessly contemporary and warmly compassionate approach, one that allows the story to flash back and forth throughout, weaving youthful exuberance with adult maturity. It draws out the evolution of each character as well as the constants that define them, and the cast bring a beautiful nuance to every person we meet, right down to Tracy Letts’ skeptical publisher, Mr Dashwood, to Meryl Streep as the snooty Aunt March. Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are a true ensemble, each one carrying a depth and history through their actions and dialogue while generously letting the others shine – while Pugh’s glowing presence threatens to steal the show, she never overshadows her siblings, in the same way that Amy’s connection with childhood friend Laurie (Timothée Chalamet in one of his funniest roles to date) cannot eclipse the bond shared by him and Jo.
The group’s increasingly separate – yet always overlapping – lives are full of tiny details that build their world around them, from fragments of costume that are shared between outfits to the vignettes that echo between past and present. Gerwig and DoP Yorick Le Saux (Personal Shopper, Only Lovers Left Alive) bring a fluid immediacy to events, from the way the camera moves with a pair of young dancers in their own private bubble to a quietly dazzling single-take sweep through a house and garden that sees every March sister at their full potential. And, running through it all, is the empowering story of a woman finding her voice and knowing her creative worth, as Jo takes all of these memories, hopes and regrets and pours them into a book that we literally see assembled in one of the most thrilling dialogue-free sequences in recent memory. Flawlessly directed and acted, it’s a bittersweet, profound celebration of family, love and growing up – and a tale that’s guaranteed to be carried forward by generations to come.