A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA


A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA


A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA


Reel Reviews: Little Women

“Little Women” has been done over and over…and over again…but never like this
Saoirse Ronan as Jo March in “Little Women.” Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers that are over 150 years old, with a few insights into the latest adaptation. Proceed with caution.

“Little Women” has been adapted countless times throughout the generations. From silent films to radio and television, to the theater stage and the giant silver screen, we have been subjected to several versions of the 1868 novel from Louisa May Alcott. One would think that the 1994 film adaptation, starring the likes of Winona Ryder, Christian Bale and a laundry list of other A-listers, would have nailed the coffin shut on this remake. With big shoes to fill after following such critical success, who would dare attempt to tell this story once again?

Greta Gerwig, the brilliant writer and director, who is most notable from the 2017 critically-acclaimed film “Lady Bird,” has dared to retell this classic story from a different perspective. One that speaks to her own film-making style.

In the latest movie version, Gerwig recounts the story from her own artistic voice and style and enlivens the tale with a modern approach to the “domestic struggles and joys” of the literary-classic March family. She crafts up a story that interweaves the novel with the real-life writings of Louisa May Alcott. Due to this clever reimagination, the movie has garnered six Oscar nominations, including the coveted prize of Best Picture.

In Gerwig’s version, the first thing we notice is the story-line approach. It is not told chronologically, as most film adaptations have. Gerwig moves back and forth between the future and the past. The movie starts off in the second half of Alcott’s book. Gerwig depicts the strong-minded tomboy Jo March, played by Saoirse Ronan, as a newly independent, up-and-coming writer staying in a boarding house in New York City.

We get a chance to see what each of the March sisters are up to; Meg is married with children, Amy is in Europe with Aunt March and Laurie and sick Beth is at home with Marmee. We see the perspective of Jo, who is trying to find her footing as a writer and fight the loneliness that comes with change, as well as the hardships of growing up. Especially as her sisters move on and move forward, the childhood comfort that she once knew begins to disappear.

We flash back to seven years prior, when the March sisters were bright-eyed and innocent, living at home with their mother while their father was away at war. The movie continues to move between the past and future throughout most of the film. The way Gerwig plays with color tones between the past and future gives the movie’s cinematography a simultaneous mood of the nostalgia of a warm-hearted past and the pale coolness of an uncertain future.

The elegant period-era costumes are precisely used to represent the personality of each character, who has a particular core color palette in the film. Jo, the free-thinking tomboy, wears frumpy dresses without a corset, in a shade of reds and indigos. Meg (Emma Watson), the practical romantic, dresses in lavender and green. Amy (Florence Pugh), the image-conscious spoiled brat, wears light blues, and Beth (Eliza Scanlen), the content homebody, is draped in soft pinks and browns. Even Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) has tailored suits to dress the part of the rich, yet playful and charming next-door neighbor. Each and every simplistic detail from the costumes to the landscaped scenery is meticulously thought out across the film.

The modernism Gerwig captures is what takes this timeless classic from 1868 to the 21st century. It’s a comparable reminder to Sofia Coppola’s modernist take on the infamous French Queen of Versailles in the 2006 film “Marie Antoinette,” but without the baby-blue Converse and the New Wave playlist that scores the film.

Gerwig uses the language and dialogue in “Little Women” to freshen up the 152-year-old tale. She pulled lines from the other stories of Alcott and her documented personal experiences, along with creating powerful statements about the economics of womanhood through feminist references that deal with the nature of marriage in the 19th century.

One example is during Amy’s monologue defending her decision to Laurie as to why she needs to marry rich. “I’m just a woman,” she tells Laurie.

“And as a woman, there’s no way for me to make my own money. Not enough to earn a living or to support my family, and if I had my own money, which I don’t, that money would belong to my husband the moment we got married. And if we had children, they would be his, not mine. They would be his property, so don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition, because it is. It may not be for you, but it most certainly is for me.”

Another moment of the film that spotlights a feminist message is when Jo, true to the real-life events of Louisa May Alcott, negotiates with her publisher, Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts), to retain copyright ownership of her book. This is after the two argue about the book’s ending, of course — particularly on whether the main character should marry or not. As her publisher points out, the fate of the female protagonist’s needs to be “either married or dead” in the end.

“If you end your delightful book with your heroine a spinster, no one will buy it,” Dashwood said. “It won’t be worth printing.”

These are the few examples where Gerwig blurs the lines between the fictional characters and the actual author — to a point — where it’s hard to tell which one we’re watching.

The performances in “Little Women” are encapsulating and portray emotional details with such preciseness. Within the first act of the film, the familial bonds of the sisters are quite convincing because the chemistry among the actors plays as realistically heart-warming. We witness their joy and laughter, their squabbles and suffering, and their love for each other and how they spread that love and happiness to ones around them. The chemistry and playful flirtation between Jo and Laurie burst from the screen and speak to the acting chops of both Ronan and Chalamet.

Comparing Saoirse Ronan’s Jo March against Winona Ryder’s performance in the 1994 adaptation, there’s no doubt that Ronan owns it — hands down. Ronan is larger than life as Jo, and perfectly summarizes the book’s description of the character as a free-spirited, non-conforming, tomboy/would-be spinster. Florence Pugh’s performance allows Amy to be more relatable and less detestable; we see a sense of strength and vulnerability that we haven’t seen from this character in the previous versions. In the end, she’s still the character we love to hate.

Unfortunately, some casting choices and performances do not land as well, or shall I say the actors were poorly utilized. Laura Dern’s Marmee lacked substance in comparison to Susan Sarandon’s character version in the 1994 film. And Bob Odenkirk, of the hit series “Better Call Saul,” as the girl’s father was a questionable and insignificant casting choice. However, these are minor criticisms that make the film a little less than perfect.

One aspect of the film that does not translate as well are the relationships between Jo and Professor Bhaer — who she ends up marrying — and Amy and Laurie, who end up married as well. In Gerwig’s version, there is not enough time spent on developing the actual relationships between these pairs. The viewer is not able to root for Amy and Laurie, as it is unclear why the two should be together.

The connection between Jo and Bhaer makes little sense, as well. We first see them in the boarding house in New York, bashfully making eyes at each other. They then get into a fight over Bhaer’s blunt criticism of Jo’s writings, and then we don’t see Bhaer until the end of the movie. We don’t really get to see why Jo fell in love with Professor Bhaer.

The relationships feel forced and undeveloped. They are told to the audience, but not seen. It makes this particular plotline seem haphazardly put together to tie in a typical love story. The movie tries too hard to perfect the chemistry between Ronan and Chalamet that it strays away from the original novel, which in part feels like something is missing.

In the novel, Jo never accepted Laurie’s proposal through a hand-written letter, and it wasn’t a surprise to Jo that Amy and Laurie were together. These unnecessary scenes within the latest adaptation could have been replaced with moments of the characters actually forming romantic bonds.

The jury is still out on whether we needed another adaptation of “Little Women” or not. Nonetheless and despite its flaws, Gerwig’s clear vision and strong conviction take center stage and give a loving-attention to this classic tale. Instead of trying to outdo the previous versions, the film finds a new way to tell this story of the March sisters while staying semi-faithful yet utterly respectful to the original material. Gerwig honors Alcott’s vision of Jo — a vision that the author was unable to write herself due to the times in which the book was released.

“Little Women” is bold, innovative and gives fans of this timeless classic more of what they love and adore.

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About the Contributor
Shannon Carter, Arts & Entertainment Editor
Shannon Carter is the photo editor of SAC.Media.

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