Movie Review: ‘Little Women’

Director: Greta Gerwig

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlan, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk, Chris Cooper

Plot: Viewed through overlapping timelines, we follow the life and loves of the four March sisters of 1860’s New England

Review: Unlike most people I don’t have much familiarity with this classic and revered story. I do know it by reputation, however, and I know how important the characters are to many, many people. The story arrives in cinemas at least once every generation, and seemingly lives or dies on the strength of the cast. In that regard, this film is getting a good head start with a small ensemble of the most talented women in the business.

Saoirse Ronan takes the lead of Jo, the tomboyish, forward thinking writer prone to bursts of anger. Ronan has been taking up leading lady roles since the age of 13 and has oft been praised for her performances. Little Women is no exception, and it feels like a role she’s been building towards. It’s likely that the actress will be intrinsically linked to the character following this film. Alongside Ronan is Emma Watson taking on a more restrained role than usual and imbuing it with plenty of heart, and the up-and-coming Florence Pugh as the social climbing artist Amy. Filling out the remaining family members is Eliza Scanlen as the youngest sister, Beth. Scanlen has made a big leap from cheesy, Australian soap opera Home & Away (which also gave us Isla Fisher and Chris Hemsworth) and promises to be one to watch. Laura Dern takes on the sadly underdeveloped role of Marmee and Meryl Streep sadly only appears in an extended cameo as Aunt March.

Steering the ship is Greta Gerwig, fresh off the success of Lady Bird, who proves that she can handle a much bigger project. The film has carefully considered visuals and stunning performances, so she’s no one-hit wonder. What’s interesting is the mixing of the first and second parts of the story (the second part being published separately in the UK under the name ‘Good Wives’). We cut between the girls at a younger age, with Meg and Jo working to support the family while their father is away at the war, Beth unable to come out of her shell and Amy frustrated as she feels that she’s trapped at home, and the sisters as young adults. Meg is married to a poor tutor and struggling with her lot in life, Amy is unable to get out of Jo’s shadow, and Jo still allows anger to steer her life in different directions.

When the plotlines intercut we’re often relying on changing colour palettes indicate this, and sometimes we couldn’t tell if we were meant to know that the timeline had shifted or they were intentionally making it vague. It’s a relieve when Jo cuts her hair, that’s the only time it was nice and clear. There’s another odd quirk in this film, and that’s when a letter is being read we cut to a flat shot of the writer delivering the contents of the letter directly to the camera. I say quirky because there are plenty of letters that don’t get this treatment, it’s hard to qualify it as a stylistic choice when it happens so inconsistently. There’s almost two and half hours between uses, so it stands out as awkward. The result is that they didn’t feel confident enough to commit to the choice.

Look, you know if you’re seeing this or not. You’re already familiar with the story and you’re looking to see how well the actors fit your mental image of the characters. If you’re not always in that camp, a 2.5 hour long period drama might not be your cup of tea. If you do see it, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Rating: EIGHT out of TEN