4 out of 5 stars
When it was announced that Greta Gerwig, the award-winning director of Lady Bird, wanted to put her spin on Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 classic a noticeable cringe may have occurred in the literary world. Mainly when she chose to put Saoirse Ronan, her star from the coming-of-age film in the titular role of Jo March. Everything seemed to point to a statement film for this modern generation about the depiction of women throughout history. With a star-studded cast and hot on the heels of her directorial success, it would remain to be seen if Gerwig could honour the cherished text and still manage to provide a fresh adaptation for this era.
The opening sequences prove that this rendition of Little Women would have something special in store for the fans of the novel. Jo March (Ronan) is finding her feet within the literary community of New York City while she teaches the children at her boarding house. She puts herself at the mercy of the publisher, Mr. Dashwood played brilliantly by Tracy Letts. A man who only wants short and quippy tales that will tantalise their readers, but not challenge them to see beyond the stereotypes of the Civil War audience. After selling her first short story to the savvy businessman, the young writer is challenged to truly tap into her talent by a fellow boarder, Professor Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel). It is during these challenges she begins to reminisce about her past in the New England countryside with her family.
Gerwig’s storytelling stays faithful to the characters of Alcott’s book and past movie renditions, but intertwines the past with the adult lives of the March sisters. It explores the lives the sisters experienced after leaving their family home, but shows how their shared history moulded how they go about those lives. For example, how Meg (Emma Watson) had to adjust to life as a wife and mother while the younger Amy (Florence Pugh) enjoys the high-life of Europe during her time with the wealthy and spinsterly Aunt March (Meryl Streep). Or how the sisterly bond that kept all of them close, even when they were worlds apart, especially when the beloved Beth (Eliza Scanlen) becomes ill or whenever their mother endured hardship. Laura Dern (Marriage Story) is brilliant as the matriarch and the cornerstone that keeps this unruly lot together while their father is off fighting for the Union Army.
As the story travels back and forth through the years, the screenplay allows for a depth in the March sisters individually and as a family unit. For the Alcott devotees, the relationship that needed to be the most convincing for this new version to work was the unique friendship of Jo and Theodore 'Laurie' Laurence (Timothée Chalamet). Which proves to be compelling and engaging because of the chemistry and performances of the two young stars who pour themselves into these much-loved characters. The only actor that manages to outshine the two leads is Florence Pugh who is allowed to humanise the otherwise unappealing and unruly youngest sister, Amy. No small feat with all of the March family and the other actors being at the top of their game, including Academy-Award winner Chris Cooper.
The only missteps in this otherwise flawless production were the relative melancholy tone that seemed to wash over every element of the story. More tears will be shed in cinemas during this newest spin on the adored tale of sisterhood, but that does not diminish the value of the film. The only knock comes at the conclusion when Gerwig goes for a statement of political correctness that does not fit with the period piece or the masterful manner she honours the rest of this familiar tale.
Any fear that fans may have had for this new version of Little Women is unwarranted. The cast, the writing and the direction are handled in brilliant fashion and will prove to be this generation’s adaptation of the March sisters and life in New England.
REEL DIALOGUE: How much are we to sacrifice in light of achieving life’s goals?
Every time that Jo March is depicted on screen, it should make people wonder what they would sacrifice for the sake of their craft. In the life of men and women throughout history, there is much to celebrate. Then to evaluate their achievements, the question needs to be asked, who and what gets left in the aftermath? Missionaries, pastors, business leaders and politicians all have to consider these questions. Regardless of how admirable or genuine they maybe, what would you do to achieve your dreams, goals or God-inspired aspirations?
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”Matthew 22
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Russ Matthews works for City Bible Forum as the Engaging Manager. He enjoys developing large public forums throughout the city to engage workers with the bigger questions of life. He oversees The Edge and Reel Dialogue.