Since the news that Greta Gerwig, the newbie director fresh off the success of her film Lady Bird, was picking up Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women for its eighth film adaptation, critics had been wary of the high and rather probable risk of the director just repeating what has already been done 7 times. But this latest version of Little Women ensures that we never dare to criticize Greta Gerwig’s storytelling prowess Ever Again. Period.
Gerwig’s Little Women is a lot more than just a re-telling of the classic tale of sisterhood during the American Civil War- it is reimagining the world they lived in and molding it in a way that it retains its originality while resonating with today’s era, unlike the Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 adaptation, which barely trimmed down the novel to be precise. While the scenario and presentation of the era the story is set in is as precise as it could be, Gerwig’s idea of mixing up the timelines lends it a youthful vibe missing from all the previous renditions of the classic novel- this time the characters are shown as young people, teeming with all the emotions that come with the phase, thus allowing Little Women to be a coming-of-age story.
Also throwing the timeline for a spin allows Gerwig to add elements to the characters that weren’t earlier present in the former adaptations. And to that, add the fantastic performance by the cast, especially Saoirse Ronan as the independent Jo, that allowed Gerwig to put a fresh spin to an already explored story, morphing it into something new yet adhering to its roots.
The new version of Little Women is about the life journey of the four March sisters– Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Amy (Florence Pugh). While Meg marries for love, she is miserable in a life of poverty, unable to afford the material comfort she seeks. On the other hand, Jo struggles to be a serious writer in an era that saw women fit only for getting married and producing kids.
Beth, living with a debilitating health issue is restricted to her bed while Amy takes on a practical view of the world, accepting that trying to make a living as a painter would be a foolish idea. If she wants to lead a comfortable life and support her family, marrying someone rich was the only solution as according to her marriage is an “economic proposition” for women.
Glimpses from their childhood and seven years into the future are juxtaposed into the story via flashbacks. Now, the sisters are older and quite different from who they used to be but what effect did the passage of time have on their bond? While the idea of fleeting back and forth in the timeline could have been a risky move, Little Women pulls it all off effortlessly- from the Christmas morning to the tears shed. The transition between the different fragments of story and the different timelines though mixed and matched, oddly fit each like jigsaw puzzle.
Feminist tones are also roped into the narrative of the film and become a major driving point of the plot. We see Saoirse Ronan’s brilliant personification of Jo struggling in a misogynist era to become a successful writer and be financially independent on her own. But what makes it even better is the fact that unlike the Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version where Jo’s happy ending is what society merits it should be i.e., marriage, Gerwig gives an ambiguous ending- keeping the original plot intact while allowing the possibility that Jo finally fulfilled her dreams and ambitions.