By Nicole Ackman
In the opening scene of “Little Women” (2019), when we see Saoirse Ronan’s character entering a publisher’s office to try to sell her work and get herself taken seriously as a writer, we’re not just seeing the character of Jo March. We’re also seeing Louisa May Alcott, who wrote the novel that the film is adapted from, and perhaps even the film’s writer and director Greta Gerwig herself.
The film takes on many different topics from family to romance, but it stands out from other adaptations of “Little Women” in its depiction of creators and their artistic pursuits. It also is the first adaptation to emphasize that the story was loosely autobiographical for Alcott. Gerwig has pulled in bits of Alcott’s real life, from recreating the house that she lived in to using lines from letters sent between her and her family members. The book that Jo is working on at the end of the story also becomes more obviously the tale that readers have enjoyed since 1868, “Little Women.”
Part of Gerwig’s brilliance with this adaptation was putting together the perfect cast. Who else could the “Lady Bird” (2017) director choose as her Jo March but the talented, passionate Ronan who seems born to play the role?
Aside from Gerwig’s brilliant blending of fiction and fact, she also brings new life into the story by telling it out of chronological order for the first time. The film starts halfway through the narrative, with Jo in New York, Amy in Paris, Meg married, and Beth sick. Throughout the film, as the action moves forward, we also flash back to their rosy childhood. This allows Gerwig to line up themes and parallels that are less impactful when the story is told traditionally. If you’re worried about keeping track of the timelines, pay attention to their actresses’ hair and to the lighting – the childhood scenes are more warmly lit, while the scenes with the girls older are cooler in tone.
Part of Gerwig’s brilliance with this adaptation was putting together the perfect cast. Who else could the “Lady Bird” (2017) director choose as her Jo March but the talented, passionate Ronan who seems born to play the role? Much of the film is sold on the chemistry not just between Ronan and Timothée Chalamet as Laurie, but between the four sisters played by Ronan, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, and Florence Pugh and their mother played by Laura Dern. Gerwig has crafted one of the most believable families seen on screen, constantly talking over and hanging off of each other.
Gerwig’s writing and direction of “Little Women,” whether it is recognized this awards season or not, will surely be remembered in film history, just as this film is sure to become a classic and a standard for book adaptations.
You can read my full review for ITOL here.