With an opening on Christmas Day, “Little Women” is likely to be a gift to many. To families, a movie that can be seen together. To young audiences, a discovery of the classic works of Louisa May Alcott. To Alcott herself, a renewed interest in her story.
This update of the classic is able to respect the original Alcott intended, yet bring out the modern feminist qualities that will appeal to audiences. Greta Gerwig’s love for Alcott is evident.
The cast gives new life and new perspective to the characters, even though Alcott’s writing has already defined and dictated much to their portrayals. Not only do we see wonderful individual performances, we also see exquisite work as an ensemble cast. Good direction and charitable actors make for splendid ensembles.
The cast is led by the superb Saoirse Ronan as heroine Jo March, reunited with “Ladybird” co-star Timothee Chalamet as Laurie. Eldest sister Meg is played by Harry Potter’s Emma Watson with the vain younger sister Amy being played by “Fighting With My Family’s” Florence Pugh. Sweet, tragic fourth sister Beth is played by “Sharp Objects'” Eliza Scanlen with Laura Dern (Marmee), Bob Odenkirk (father), Chris Cooper (Mr. Laurence), and James Norton (John) rounding out the cast of March family members and neighbors. Meryl Streep, at her scene stealing best, portrays grumpy yet hilarious Aunt March. “Ford vs Ferrari’s” Tracy Letts plays another gruff, curmudgeonly character as publisher Mr. Dashwood, who advises Ms. March to add a love interest to her story, which she does in the form of Friedrich Bhaer, a suitor and colleague played by Louis Garrel. The portion of the story involving Bhaer is added so skillfully that we are unable to determine whether the real Jo March winds up with him or not in the end.
Ronan is luminous and multi-faceted in her portrayal. With her wispy hair flying and her intense “social animal” behavior, it’s hard to stop watching her. She is the best part of the film, but her supporting cast is top notch and flawless all the same. Chalamet portrays the aloof and somewhat reckless Laurie with such depth, pulling us in and making us ache when he finally professes his love for Jo. Enough cannot be said for Chris Cooper, who always seems to be on target with his portrayals. Here, he is endearing and down-to-earth as the charitable Mr. Laurence.
Even though the original story is told throughout the movie, we join Jo seven years in the future, before traveling back in time through flashbacks. There are new, fresh elements added as I said, to appeal to more modern audiences, and the ending is satisfying as if it were suggested by Mr. Dashwood himself, even though the audience is left free to make assumptions.
At times, the film can be a tad unrealistic, mainly due to the way the female characters conduct themselves. I found some of the conversation and depiction of mid-1800 manners a little hard to accept, but I could be wrong. The real Alcott’s home life was said to be a bit more modern with forward thinking parents and it is quite possible that the Alcott sisters appeared to be more uncouth than most ladies of the day. I also found some moments a bit overly-saccharine, but that’s unavoidable with a classic of this magnitude. At times, the music, though beautiful, is a bit overdone as well.
Overall, it is a fine picture. Yes, take your family to see it over the holidays. Everyone will enjoy it. My grade: B+
“Little Women” is rated PG and runs 135 minutes. It opens in theaters on Christmas Day.