Saturday, 11 January 2020

Film Review: Little Women

Writer and director Greta Gerwig retools Little Women for a new generation in this charming adaptation.

Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel Little Women has been adapted for the screen on a number of occasions; but the timeless coming-of-age story has always been one that's eluded me, both in book and film form.

That was until Greta Gerwig came along and decided to give it a revamp via an all-star cast that includes the likes of Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Timothee Chalamet, Meryl Streep and Laura Dern. With those names attached, safe to say I was interested.

Set during the American Civil War, Little Women follows four young women – Jo (Ronan), Meg (Watson), Amy (Pugh) and Beth (Scanlen) – as they come of age amidst domestic and romantic trials and tribulations. With their father off fighting on the frontlines, the March sisters must grapple with the concept of supporting their mother (Laura Dern) and their household, which for some – like Meg – means finding a partner to settle down with, while for others – like Jo and Amy – it means moving away to pursue moneymaking passions, like writing and art respectively. Interwoven with their lives is Theodore 'Laure' Laurence (Chalamet), a dreamy boy next door who is instantly smitten with the hotheaded Jo.

While Little Women was initially published in two halves, Gerwig restructures the narrative in order to tell its two stories – one, during the March girls' rosy teen years, where they squabble with one another and swoon over boys, and a second during their more tumultuous and troublesome early adulthood – in tandem.

Separated by a seven-year gap, this neat rejigging means themes that marry up and matching motifs are stacked side-by-side; Gerwig uses myriad techniques to simply and effectively cut between the two threads, from colour grading and match edits to differing haircuts.

It means we get to see plots like Jo and Laurie's courtship play out alongside some struggles later down the road in life; and for someone who wasn't familiar with Little Women beforehand, I think this was a more compelling way of telling the whole story than if it had just been in chronological order.

The ensemble cast are all great in their own way, but I'll single out Ronan and Pugh as MVPs. Ronan, as always, brings such earnestness to her character, and here is full of fieriness and passion as protagonist Jo. Meanwhile, 24-year-old Pugh is given the rough job of playing both sulky 13-year-old Amy and a more mature and pragmatic 20-year-old Amy, but she makes it work.

That's not to say the rest of the cast don't shine; Watson's Meg is charmingly wholesome and humble, while Scanlen's quiet Beth sits at the heart of the whole film. Her side story with Chris Cooper's character is terrific.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

Simply delightful. There really isn't anything more to say than that.

Little Women is in cinemas across Australia now.

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