By Claire Van Zee | Reporter
If you haven’t already heard the whispers of uncontainable admiration for “Little Women” slowly circulating the globe, then let me be the one to tell you it’s a must-see.
“Ladybird” director Greta Gerwig’s retelling of the beloved Louisa May Alcott novel (maybe you read it in middle school?) is unlike any retelling before. While the novel may already have three film adaptions, none compare to Gerwig’s brilliant rendition that premiered in cinemas on Christmas Day 2019.
As I enter a year of hoping to improve my writing, I’ve never wanted to be more like Jo in my life (how embarrassingly basic, I know). As she bundles up in her brilliant green army housecoat and nestles with her quill and ink by candlelight in the cozy attic, a wave of inspiration came over me: one, immediately go online and find a matching housecoat ASAP, and two, write with the same captivating energy as Jo, the kind of finger-cramping enthusiasm that engulfs a writer for hours.
As if Alcott’s beloved fans weren’t enough to fill the theater, the all-star cast including Emma Watson, Sairose Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep was sure to attract some attention.
I will say, there were some points where I couldn’t unsee Dern as the mother from “The Fault in Our Stars” or as Renatta from “Big Little Lies,” but I persevered and my admiration for her outweighed the resemblance I found in her familiar sobbing.
The true beauty of this rendition, however, is that I’ve never wanted to be more like Amy either (is that possible, you ask? The answer is yes.) In most “Little Women” adaptations, Amy’s more unattractive qualities appear to take precedent. She is always that bratty sister who burned Jo’s book and leaves us wondering how Jo ever forgave her for it (“I really did want to hurt you,” Amy says to Jo).
“There must be something about sisterhood that I don’t understand,” I thought as Jo works to forgive her. However, Gerwig’s Amy (played by Oscar-nominated Pugh) takes on a whole new persona, one of relatability and humor leaving the audience rooting for Amy by the end.
Let me set the scene for you. On a charming Massachusetts property in a secluded forest lives the March family, a family with four beautiful young girls (with the casting of Watson and Pugh setting the bar pretty high.) The four sisters are more different than alike, each serving as different stereotypical version of what it means to be a woman today and 150 years ago when it was written.
Jo (Ronan), the heroine, is a rebellious writer, who lives every day wishing she was a boy. The oldest, Meg (Watson), is a hopeless romantic and wishes for nothing more than to marry and have a family of her own. Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is quiet, musically talented and always does the right thing. Finally, Amy is the baby of the family who lives in the shadow of her sisters. She longs to marry rich and make a name for herself as a painter.
In summary, “Little Women” is a story for everyone, a story about love, loss, sisterhood and friendship. Told from the perspective of Jo March, played by Irish actress Ronan, the story reflects back and forth on her life growing up with her three sisters during the American Civil War. The March sisters learn to navigate the trials of growing up in 19th century America while also striving to live life on their own terms.
While the movie raises the question, “Which girl would you like to be?” I think it’s important to note how Gerwig’s adaptation leaves people wanting to be a bit of all four.
As said by Anthony Michael Hall’s character in the classic John Hughes film “The Breakfast Club,” “You see us as you want to see us — in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of is a…” headstrong rebel (Jo) and a hopeless romantic (Meg) and a quiet observer (Beth) and an overlooked realist (Amy). All this to say, we don’t have to fight over who is more Jo or who is more Meg, but we can all relish in the fact that we all contain a bit of each of them.
As their lives change and the simple becomes complicated due to the effects of war, sickness and romantic troubles, the sisters stand together despite their differences. In a time when society is as polarized as ever, the beauty of their love and rawness of their emotions leave audiences with an inspired spirit to kick off the new decade.
Since the movie has been out for almost a month now, I’ve heard my share of confusion from the masses regarding some of the more complicated qualities of the film. For example, “Why the heck did it go back and forth so much?” or “At one point, I thought Laurie was going to marry every sister.” This one made me laugh as I considered that maybe in a parallel universe, Laurie and the March sisters are living their own kind of “Sister Wives” and star on some kind of 19th century TLC.
I’ll admit that I could see how Gerwig’s choice of back and forth narration was a bit confusing, especially for younger audiences and those who had no reference to the story before. But if you pay close attention, you’ll notice Gerwig’s choice of filtering the present day scenes with a cool-toned lens, and retrospective, childhood scenes with a warm-toned lens. Childhood plays a major part in the story and those scenes couldn’t have been more magical. The whimsical attic, adorned with butterfly garlands and velvet couches is just one of the well done sets by production designer Jess Gonchor.
With the success of the novel and subsequent film adaptations, the story has obviously been a fan favorite for a while. So how is it that over the 150 years since the debut of the novel, the story has continued to stay relevant? It’s a story about the mundane and everyday struggles of life for a small American family what’s so interesting about that?
It continues to be relatable for the same reason shows like “This Is Us`” are so successful. They are real stories people can relate to, like that feeling of losing a loved one, falling in love, bickering with a friend, and so many other emotions people desire to see reflected in entertainment. If anything, it makes the feeling of being boring and not having some “Eat, Pray, Love” experience feel less daunting and more of a gift we’ll take with pleasure (As long as we still have Chalamet professing his love for us at sunset on an autumnal hill.)
It seems that I wasn’t the only one awestruck and obsessed with the gorgeous costumes by Jacqueline Durran (who is deservingly Oscar-nominated for the work), as Etsy and style magazines have been flooded with requests for “best billowy white blouses” and “19th century waistcoats.” The soundtrack is also something to look out for, composed by critically acclaimed Alexandre Desplat (it also makes for the perfect background study playlist).
“Little Women” is a must-see for all ages; take your mom, your grandma, your dad and your second cousin! As we enter this new decade, let’s remember to “do our duty faithfully, fight our enemies bravely and conquer ourselves so beautifully” so that we may all be our own version of the little women.