When I heard that there would be another LITTLE WOMEN movie, I could not have been less interested. I’ve already seen one, so I already know the story. How much could it change to make me need to see it again? It’s not like new technology would impact this film, as it doesn’t have any crazy special effects. Yet, I should have known that Greta Gerwig would do things differently, perhaps making them more personal, and create something that needs to be seen. Her unique approach to Louisa May Alcott’s story makes a world of difference. It’s a delightful film covering a gamut of emotions. I walked out of the theater afterwards feeling invigorated, which hasn’t happened a whole lot lately.
For those who haven’t seen any of the LITTLE WOMEN films or read the novel, the basic idea is that there are four sisters trying to determine their places in the world. I should also tell you I’m going to compare elements to the 1994 version, but don’t worry. I will do so without spoilers.
Greta Gerwig, who gifted us with FRANCIS HA and LADY BIRD gives us a version of LITTLE WOMEN with a far more emotional wallop than the previous incarnation starring Winona Ryder, Christian Bale, and Susan Sarandon. Even though the film takes place at the end of the Civil War, the characters feel relatable. This is sometimes difficult to achieve in period films, as characters from the past tend to have an entirely different aura about them. I appreciate that the March family could easily be plopped into today’s world and probably make friends very quickly, after learning how to use Snap Chat and Instagram, of course.
Having the right cast in a film of this nature proves paramount to its success. The casting here is flawless. Saoirse Ronan effortlessly assumes the personality of Jo March, a young woman struggling to become a writer in a male-dominated field. This is my favorite performance of hers to date, but I expect she’ll continue to impress me as she progresses towards superstardom. Eventually, I hope to be able to spell her name without having to look it up and recheck three or four times to make sure I’ve done it correctly.
While all the other performances are great, only a few truly stand out for me. Meryl Streep as the opinionated Aunt March delights me considerably with her perfect amount of snark. Laura Dern beautifully evinces Marmee March’s compassion, and Timothée Chalamet carries a seemingly natural, devilish charm, making him particularly suitable for Laurie. The additional focus on one character, Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts) surprises me. It provides a whole deeper insight into a person who feels mostly insignificant in the 1994 film version. This new element adds substantially to the film’s overall impact, and I love everything about Tracy Letts’ performance here.
Adding more of Mr. Dashwood isn’t the only adjustment to the film. Several inclusions provide additional suspense and drama. Adding dialogue in one scene, removing it from another, or changing who says what amplifies far more than I would have expected. I appreciate every change made except one. While I understand the motivation behind the change, it just feels flat and phony. I wanted something completely different with Friedrich, and I find a moment that could have been heartwarming to be rather off-putting.
Aside from that minor misstep, LITTLE WOMEN is delightful. Opening on Christmas Day, it’s the perfect choice for a holiday film. You don't really want to have to talk to your family, do you? Instead of trying to avoid family drama this Christmas, you and your family could go watch other people (played by a slew of young, talented actors) deal with their family drama and their own ambitions. If you think you know what to expect from LITTLE WOMEN because you've watched another version, you don't. Not really. Greta Gerwig paints the picture with her fresh perspective, and that's certainly something worth seeing.