Can there ever be enough adaptations of Little Women? The film was first adapted to screen in 1917. Since that first silent film, new versions have been released with advancements in film technology. As recently as 2018, a modern retelling of the classic novel was released. And that’s not even counting the numerous stage interpretations.
The newest adaptation of Little Women sees acclaimed director Greta Gerwig direct an impressive cast. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson. Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen, the coming of age story definitely does not lack for star power. It also tells a timeless story that has kept its charm since its initial release. But is that enough?
Unsurprisingly, the acting is great. Ronan and Pugh were both nominated for Academy Awards and it is easy to see why. Ronan is great as Jo March. There is great strength and vulnerability to the character and Ronan portrays both perfectly. Even Jo’s most rash decisions make perfect sense. She is a well rounded character that captivates the audience.
Amy is almost the opposite of her older sister. When she is younger, she is self-centered. She clearly loves her family, but there is vanity not found in her other sisters. That being said, she also believes art is purely about expression. She never considers using it for financial gain. As the story progresses, her views on life change.
Pugh does an excellent job of making Amy’s more experienced outlook on life believable. Whereas early on she can be destructively vindictive, as an adult she is quick to pass on advice about how to better one’s self. It is a simple matter of maturation, but Pugh makes it all the more interesting and satisfying with her great performance.
Much has been made about Gerwig being ignored by the Oscars for Best Director – and for good reason. Little Women is wonderfully shot. The framing of the shots is fantastic. Gerwig shows of the beauty of Concord, Massachusetts and the bustle of New York City. Extravagant parties and interiors add to the beauty of the film. The closing sequence is fantastic and shows the care the director had for the project.
Gerwig also does a great job of conveying emotion. Most notably, are scenes involving the March household. These chaotic moments are filled with a frenzied happy energy that fills the screen. Shots that should be claustrophobic and dizzying instead show off the love the family has for each other. Gerwig expertly navigates the emotional ups and downs of Little Women.
When it comes to any film adaptation, there is going to be changes. Some of them are negligible while others are impossible to ignore. Gerwig makes some major changes to the source material. The most notable is the way the story is framed. The audience is given an intimate look into the family’s life thanks to the narrative structure employed.
What fans of the novel may take issue with is how some of the characters are portrayed. Some are pushed to the background. (It can be theorized this was done to reinforce how one of the sisters feels about goals. That being said, it does make the ending somewhat abrupt.) Others are given a stronger sense of development. In the end, it is all subjective and Gerwig always stays true to the spirit of the novel.
Adapting Little Women is a difficult task. Quite simply, there is so much to compare it to. Director Greta Gerwig does a tremendous job. There is an obvious love for the book that comes through in her decisions. The story remains engaging and the performances are spectacular. The latest version of Little Women does not just compare favorably; it may be the best ever.