Sometimes, you can just look at an image from a film and immediately know there is no way it will work for you. Sure, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (or a movie by its poster) – but most of us are guilty of doing just that. Everything about Little Women (2019) seems like it could potentially bore me, as its a period piece in the Civil War era focusing on four sisters living in poverty, with hints of romance. Though many of those biases I hold are from my high school self, I often forget that I’ve matured far past them. My reaction to the film itself is all the proof that I need to know that what I use to think wouldn’t work for me now definitely can. With that said – I love this movie, and pretty much everything about it.
It should be noted that I’ve not read the book, nor seen any other version of this story – but I knew many of the plot points through other works (primarily an episode of Friends). The story centers on Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) who is living in New York, and is selling short stories to a publisher to send money back to her mother and sisters. Amy March (Florence Pugh) is off with Aunt March (Meryl Streep) in Paris, learning to paint and courting a wealthy husband. Meg March (Emma Watson) is married with two children, and struggling financially while helping her mother (Laura Dern) take care of the youngest sister, Beth (Eliza Scanlen), who is still recovering from Scarlet Fever. The film then shows us – through a series of flashbacks – the younger years and the various struggles they’ve had, and relationships that have come along the way…especially the one with their neighbor Theodore ‘Laurie’ Laurence (Timothée Chalamet).
Ronan and Chalamet have been two young actors that continually impress me. Their performances in this movie are fantastic, and only further my belief that they are this generation’s movie stars. Ronan has unbelievable charisma, and makes Jo such a realized character. Her confidence and drive are clear, but so is the doubt and loneliness that she plays so subtly (yet can’t be missed). Chalamet is charming, and it is easy to understand why most people are drawn to Teddy (as Jo exclusively calls him), or Laurie. That’s not to take away from the rest of the cast, but Pugh and Dern are easily the other two standouts. Amy is easily the least likable character at times, but Pugh still manages to make her slightly empathetic – even in her worst moments. Dern’s motherly nature shines in this film, and she is a beacon of goodness and love.
I cried at least three times in this film. One of my favorite storylines in this film is Jo’s drive to be a writer in a world that doesn’t want women to have a voice. Tracy Letts plays the publisher who reminds her that a female protagonist must be married or dead by the end of the story in order for it to sell. There is a large amount of metacommentary about the book publishing world that is clearly an allegory for the filmmaking process, and likely what Gretta Gerwig herself has gone through. There is a fantastic Hollywood Reporter Roundtable with Gerwig where she discusses why this film is personal to her, that is – without question – worth your time.
Honestly, there is so much to praise about this movie. I found everything about it to be absolutely marvelous, and I can’t wait to see it again. I wish my wife and daughter had joined me, but it is a film I’ll push for them to watch sooner rather than later. Little Women has even encouraged me to visit the 1994 version of the film, though having read this article and now knowing about the differences, I think I’ll ultimately prefer Gerwig’s. Her film earns the Must See rating.