Review by Sean Boelman
Little Women, Greta Gerwig’s highly-anticipated follow-up to her solo feature debut Lady Bird, is the latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s acclaimed novel of the same name. However, even though Gerwig has an obvious admiration for the source material, the adaptation fails to prove a reason for its existence, ultimately feeling like little more than a surface-level interpretation of these themes.
The film follows four sisters, Jo, Amy, Meg, and Beth March, as they come of age in America in the 1800’s. As the classic coming-of-age story, the tale of these four young women is obviously very compelling, hence why it has been adapted so many times. Gerwig even attempts to make the story her own by telling it in a nonlinear way and adding a meta perspective to the events.
Still, despite these flourishes, one can’t help but feel like this movie is much of the same, and that it has been done better in the past. This stories feminist themes always have been and always will be important and universal, but where Gerwig fails is that she is unable to draw the comparison between what these young women in post-war America are experiencing to what young women across the world are feeling today.
Additionally, the film feels very uneven in terms of its pacing. Although there are some very funny scenes sprinkled throughout, and some very touching ones as well, there are a lot of moments that fall flat, often due to the dialogue. Gerwig’s dialogue is admittedly very ambitious, having a particular meter, but it often seems like some of the actors have a hard time handling the poeticism of their lines.
Gerwig also fails to capture some of the subtleties of the characterization in Alcott’s work. In the past, all of the sisters have been equally developed, or at the very least, all sympathetic. In Gerwig’s version, Jo very much steals the spotlight and is the most compelling character, with Amy coming off as annoying and Meg and Beth being relegated to subplots. It’s disappointing that there wasn’t more balance in this regard.
Saoirse Ronan is as wonderful as always in her leading role as Jo, but she is the only one of the leads who seems to be able to hold her own. Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, and Eliza Scanlen all struggle with capturing the personality of their characters in a way that feels honest. They are surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast including Tracy Letts, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper, but all of them feel sadly underused.
Visually, Gerwig does some interesting things with the film, particularly with the use of lighting. Many shots use candlelight in a way that gives the film a quiet glow. The production design and costuming is quite strong too, setting the period very well. And as always, Alexandre Desplat delivers a score that is absolutely gorgeous and fits the movie perfectly.
Though done with noble intent and lots of style, Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women simply doesn’t do enough to stand out on its own. Viewers who are already familiar with the source material will likely find themselves bored by this straightforward retelling of a well-known story.
Little Women opens in theaters on Christmas Day.