Admittedly, as the curtains drew open at the renowned Cine Capri in Scottsdale, I sat with a furrowed brow and a biased attitude, wondering if filmmaker and actress Greta Gerwig’s rendering of Little Women (2019) could hold a candle to the beloved 1994 adaptation with Winona Ryder. However, to my pleasant surprise, Gerwig strategically intertwines Louisa May Alcott’s cherished classic, the 19th-century expectations of ”a woman’s place in society,” and leading-edge, ingenious characters.
America has never met a family quite like the March women. Each one is a robust archetype of femininity. Saoirse Ronan, who plays leading heroine Jo March, is quick-witted and the embodiment of a 2010’s woman. Veracity is the most substantial element of Ronan’s character. She is relatable and subtly tackles many of the issues women face today—discrimination, gender inequality, fair pay, independence, and sacrifice. Emma Watson, who plays the eldest sister, Meg, struggles to balance her plebeian life with the covetous desire she has for her friends’ prosperous lifestyles. Amy, played by Florence Pugh, desires to pursue her artistic talents and marry a wealthy man who can provide all the creature comforts life can afford, while sister Beth, played by Eliza Scanlen, is family-oriented, sickly, and meek. Matriarch Marmee, portrayed by Laura Dern, exemplifies can-do morale for her daughters and holds a progressive view on womanhood, showing her daughters they can be equally humble and tenacious. Meryl Streep plays Aunt March, who is a shrewd and sassy spinster. Timothée Chalamet, who plays Laurie, is a handsomely, pensive character who is enamored by neighbor girl, hard-headed, in a league of her own, Jo.
Gerwig cleverly flashes back and jumps about the chronology of the Little Women storyline. A few poignant incidents are when Jo meets with a New York editor and pitches story ideas to publish. She writes what others supposedly want to hear, not necessarily what fuels her soul. Jo is of the limiting belief because she is a woman, she will be an anonymous nobody. Awkward Jo and lovable Laurie strike up a unique friendship that evolves to bridge the gap between high-society, disjointed family with quaint and connected folk in Concord, Mass. Jo is challenged by the blunt Professor Friedrich Bhaer (played by Louis Garrel), who thinks her writing lacks depth and heart. This profoundly hurts Jo and she refuses to commit herself as a writer. Because sister Beth is seriously ill, Jo returns home to help support her family. Each sister learns a hard lesson of poverty and sacrifice, yet transforms and matures and realizes what is most important in life amid their hardships and journeys.
Broad-minded and untamable, Jo struggles with Meg’s decision to marry unpretentious John Brooke, Laurie’s tutor, played by James Norton. She implores her older sister to run away with her to live a life worthy of their calling. As a viewer, I’m moved by Jo’s vulnerable confession to Marmee when she shares: “Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it!”
These sentences are power-packed with thoughts many women have echoed through the years. Louisa May Alcott and Greta Gerwig use Jo’s character to be the mouthpiece of oppressed women of yesteryear and Gerwig reiterates the importance of continuing to find our voices and stand up for women’s rights in an impactful and sophisticated manner. Little Women is an all-encompassing, “feel good” holiday flick. This film symbolizes what Alcott desires to rid ourselves of —avarice and arrogance and to embrace family, friendship, frugality, and faith. Gerwig’s interpretation is spot on with pleasant surprises throughout the story and is a must-see for everyone!