Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is just the medicine one needs to warm the heart over the holiday season. It is a wonderful tale of ambition, desire, family and growth. A film, much like its protagonist Jo March (Saoirse Ronan), that boldly charts its own path even when traveling familiar ground.
Although Louisa May Alcott’s novel has been adapted several times before, Gerwig’s incarnation feels fresh and vibrant. She captures what makes the bond between the March sisters – strong-willed aspiring writer Jo, homemaker Meg (Emma Watson), aspiring artist Amy (Florence Pugh), and piano-playing Beth (Eliza Scanlen) – both timely and timeless.
Like the sisters themselves, there is both an artistic drive and searing anger that rages within the film. Gerwig’s Little Women is not content with adhering to the status quo and challenges the viewer’s expectations every step of the way.
It is this defiance of norms, and the frustrating way that society tries to reinforce gender quotas, that makes the film and its characters so enthralling. Within each character Gerwig perfectly captures how everything from career pursuits to the economic nature of marriage were stacked against women at the time. What makes the story so compelling is that its themes still feel urgent today.
The sense of frustration that comes with inequality, be it race or gender, is perfectly encapsulated in not only the siblings, but their mother Marmee (Laura Dern) as well. When Marmee admits that her calm and caring demeanor masks that she is “angry nearly every day of my life,” it is a power statement that many will identify with.
This relatability washes over every aspect of the film. One knowingly nods their head when Jo butt heads with a publisher’s sexist ideas of what makes good literature. Many will connect with the way financial strains impact Meg’s marriage, or the judgmental tone that their affluent aunt (Meryl Streep) takes when the siblings dare to deviate from her outdated notions of gender roles.
Even the women’s conflicted romantic feelings, and false starts in some cases, drip with rich and complex honesty. The best example of this can be found in Jo and Laurie’s (Timothée Chalamet) friendship. Gerwig’s decision to play with the chronology of events further helps to enhance the overall complexity of the couple’s bond.
Anchored by strong performance by the ensemble cast, Ronan and Pugh are especially sensational, Gerwig’s film carves out its own memorable space. Little Women is a delightful tale of family and self-discovery that reminds us why we love cinema.