The eighth film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel "Little Women," directed by Greta Gerwig, is nuanced, important and star-studded. Featuring Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern and more, the film recaptures Alcott’s 19th century tale of sisterhood and growing up.
The story follows Jo, Amy, Meg and Beth March — four middle-class sisters living in Concord, Massachusetts during and following the Civil War. Each adaptation strays from the original tale, but the themes remain. “Little Women” is witty while remaining thoughtful, emotional and funny.
Jo is a writer, Amy is an aspiring painter, Meg likes to act and Beth is the musical one. The sisters are creative at a time when women and their thoughts were suppressed. They are encouraged by their family but feel frustrated while looking toward the future. Experiencing pressure to marry up, Jo insists she will live her life a spinster. The March sisters are unique people, although not encouraged to be so by the society around them.
Gerwig’s film is non-linear, bouncing back and forth between two timelines separated by seven years. The audience is introduced to the characters, vital details and character traits are made obvious from the start, but learn about their lives in bits and pieces. Viewers gain information about relationships, then gain the context via flashback segments.
The audience watches the March sisters grow from little women into women, their personalities shifting distinctly between the two timelines. They mature and learn as they experience life before the viewer's eyes.
At one point in the film, Ronan, who plays Jo, said, “I can’t believe childhood is over.”
Meg, played by Emma Watson, responds, “It had to happen some time.”
The film weaves events of the past throughout the characters’ present moment, feeling as if the audience is experiencing Jo and company's memories. Viewers watch friendships blossom, fights between sisters and character development over the span of those seven years. The actors are able to portray life-like, nuanced characters that feel more human than anything else. They grow and change; they mature and seem to visibly age.
Audiences experience the turmoil of being a teenager, and all its romance and tragedy in a context that feels timeless. “Little Women” is a tale told time and time again, each with a variation that makes each adaptation its own. The March sisters, their strife and their lives are, in a way, universal. Similar to the tales of novelists like Jane Austen and Emily Brontë, “Little Women” lets the world into the lives of otherwise silent women. These stories changed the way the world saw women and projected humanity onto them.
“Writing doesn’t indicate importance, it reflects it,” Jo said toward the end of the film. “Little Women” is as relevant in 2019 as it was in 1868, carrying with it the meanings of girlhood, womanhood and sisterhood.