Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” follows the lives of four sisters from the blooming time of teenage years into the world of adulthood. Taking place during a tumultuous period of the Civil War, Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) have their own distinct ways of viewing a world in which women’s opportunities for independence are scarcely low. The only paths to prominence were being the wife of a privileged husband, which left women in the predicament of being “property” with no sense of individual ownership, or being rich. Each sister has a sense of free will and distinct ambitions to go far beyond this limited vestige by focusing on their pursuit of the arts. Through seamless transitions between the past and present, these bonded sisters traverse romance, tragedy, family, and self-exploration.
Featuring one of the best ensembles of the year, the cast is a who’s who of gifted young actors/actresses and established veterans. Ronan, Watson, and Pugh are impeccable with a delightful charm and sit a level above the rest of the cast. Ronan is full of strong will and combustible energy that pulls the viewer into her inner wish to shatter the mold as an aspiring novelist. There is not one scene where she doesn’t steal the show. Pugh is a stellar sidekick, continuing her hot streak in 2019 that has seen her star in roles across several different genres. Watson plays her part with a silent elegance and really hits home in a couple of dramatic moments. Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, and Laura Dern all hold up their end of the supporting bargain with terrific turns representing relevant figures in the maturation of these sisters.
A certain amount of heartwarming compassion and charm is present in every little fabric of this adaption. Certain scenes will make you smile because of the easily discernible connection the sisters share or the little moments of moral humanity where characters are full of life and charity. This world is soaked with the beloved energy that the novel has carried for over 150 years; a rare case in which the film soars to the same heights of its literary companion. For a 759 page novel, the film’s pacing and actor mannerisms makesit easy to keep up with all of the important details, the switch between flashbacks and present time are handled with the utmost care and feel seamless. Jess Gonchor’s work on the production design is the equivalent of authenticity done right. House decor, horse-drawn carriages, fashion of the era, and street signs are carbon copies of what readers have imagined for decades as the words bounce off the page.
Gerwig handles writing and direction duties just as she did with her last great film, “Lady Bird”, and shows a greater sense of improvement and ease. It can be an audacious task bringing a well-received literary classic to the big screen, but Gerwig succeeds immensely. “Little Women” is an entertaining homage that carries a modern feel while keeping the personality of a timeless period piece. This is a film that speaks to all women in the celebration of autonomy and uniqueness while delivering laughs, developed character arcs, remarkable cinematography, and a winner’s circle of award-worthy performances. I’m still surprised with how much I enjoyed my time at the theater.
Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.