Little Women: A new take on an old story

Photo Credit: Zoe Archambault

Photo Credit: Zoe Archambault

First published in the late 1860s, Little Women is a timeless tale made new again by Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation. Each scene in this film is crafted with adoration for the original story, while still shining a new light on the March sisters.

The non-linear structure of this movie helps to revitalize the old story. Without warning, the film leaps back and forth between timelines, with only a change in colour palette to tip the audience off. When the women are children, the film is golden and warm, like the love they feel for each other and the flames of disdain that strike in rare moments where they feel none at all. In the film’s present day, where they’ve all grown into women and gone their separate ways, the colours are cold and palid.

This lends a lot to the film in that it not only differentiates the timelines but conveys the feelings these moments evoke for the characters. Parallels are also drawn, a technique that tugs at the heartstrings; for instance, a cut from how the table looks when everyone gathers for Christmas to a quiet but emotional holiday where only Jo (Saoirse Ronan) and Marmee (Laura Dern) remain.

While the non-linear style gave the story a fresh look, multiple plot points felt weakened by the sudden jumping from one moment to another. Gerwig crammed as much of the tale into the two hours as she could possibly muster, which did not allow for the full emotional gravity to be felt as many scenes bled into each other.

The depth of this film lays in how the directorial and acting choices build upon the age-old dialogue. “You’ll be bored of him in two years, but we’ll be interesting forever,” Jo cries to her sister Meg (Emma Watson), begging her not to get married. Ronan’s conviction grants this line so much more weight than what it is: we read Jo’s loneliness, her sense of loss, the well-known pain of a platonic relationship being hidden beneath romantic love. Many small tragedies are layered throughout this film, made to hit home through the natural acting and depth each character carries.

Plot points suffer some from Gerwig’s adaptation of the source material but the characters improve. Gerwig’s writing and the cast’s acting work together to make every side character a star in their own right. There is not a single character in this film without a heavy amount of thought poured into them, granting all of them precise, unchanging personalities and motivations. Each character is filled with humanity and feel truly alive, a feeling built upon quirks and small mannerisms that are unique to each of them.

Florence Pugh as Amy is the standout of the film, breathing new life into a character once commonly cast aside as the bratty one. There is not a group scene in which my eyes weren’t drawn to her. Gerwig’s attention to detail pushes Amy into a new light; she writes Amy to be sympathetic and Pugh’s knockout performance elevates this quality exponentially.

Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet (as Laurie) both gave career-defining performances as well. Like each role we’ve seen her in before, Ronan sheds her skin to embody Jo fully, taking great care in becoming her. Chalamet is charming and, in this role more than ever, has a way about his acting that clues the audience in to Laurie’s thoughts while he barely moves a facial muscle; it’s mesmerizing to watch. The pair of them played off of each other beautifully, as though Jo and Laurie operated as two halves of a whole.

Gerwig has not only dusted off an old story but managed to make it refreshing. Little Women is infused with the same liveliness and quirks that were seen in her 2017 success Lady Bird and just about the same directorial mastery, proving it wasn’t just a flash in the pan. I cannot stress how much heart went into this film. It is so meticulously crafted yet nearly every detail is pitch perfect.

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