‘Little Women’ lands big

Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, and Florence Pugh in Little Women

“Sisters function as safety nets in a chaotic world simply by being there for each other.” – Carol Saline

Little Women is one property I have not had much exposure to. Prior to the 2019 film, my only experience with it was The March Sisters at Christmas. This version is certainly superior to that, and indeed better than Greta Gerwig’s previous directorial efforts.

Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is one of four daughters close in age. She is younger than Meg (Emma Watson) but older than Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Amy (Florence Pugh). Each has her own interests and goals, which for the central figure of Jo is to read and write, eventually as a profession. 

Switching back and forth between time periods of a seven-year gap – during the Civil War and after it – we see how they get by with their mother (Laura Dern). They live next to a wealthy boy (Timothée Chalamet) and his grandfather (Chris Cooper), who become quite close with the family. Then there’s the wealthy Aunt March (Meryl Streep), who makes visits here and there to berate their less than lavish conditions.

Also unlike past versions, the two younger girls are played by the same actresses in both time periods. This makes it a bit unclear whether the characters are meant to be aged up from the book or we really are supposed to see them as tweenagers. Because if it’s the latter, nope, not buying it. Amy has more dimension to her, coming across as greater than the bratty twerp that the character has a reputation of being. Going a long way towards achieving this is the performance from Pugh, who’s definitely the breakout actor in the bunch.

From what I can gather, the non-linear storytelling is wholly unique to this version. Due to the lack of multiple actors for the different ages, it can be a little confusing until you realize that it’s going on. For viewers familiar with the typical story layout, the rearrangement provides an interesting time in trying to predict where the pieces will fit. Despite the shake up, the story does not seem to be robbed of any thematic resonance nor anything appear conspicuously misplaced.

However, there’s a bizarre meta-narrative to it all. What’s described above are actually part of a fictional story from a framing scenario where Ronan is alternately pitching to a publisher (Tracy Letts) and working on it. I suppose that it’s meant to echo the trials that Louisa May Alcott went through to get her book out there, it’s just kind of unnecessary. Also, there are really strange bits where a character will speak in voiceover, then be shown talking directly to the camera. These doesn’t occur too frequently, but whenever they do, they’re really jarring and disruptive.

I’m not sure that this iteration will necessarily replace anyone’s favorite version for those who already have them, but Little Women 2019 is a worthy addition to the legacy. Now on to checking out the 2018 version, and then the 2017 one, then…

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