Review: “Little Women” finally delivers the honesty female characters deserve

At first glance, it is easy to brush “Little Women” off as something that’s been done before. Adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s 1968 novel have included notable actresses such as Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Winona Ryder over the years, but Greta Gerwig’s adaptation does something different.

Told through an interweaving of multiple years, flashbacks of the sisters’ youth living in the same house provoke nostalgia before the audience even learns why they have parted. Gerwig’s use of color in these scenes gives the younger years a warm-toned memory, recreating the sisters’ own rosy retrospection in the eyes of the audience. Scenes with all four of the March sisters spark with energy through Gerwig’s subtle, complex blocking and the fast-paced dialogue of four sisters speaking over each other. 

The film features a notable cast including Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Florence Pugh as Amy, Emma Watson as Meg, Eliza Scanlen as Beth, Timothée Chalamet as Laurie, Laura Dern as Marmie and Meryl Streep as Aunt March. 

Pugh gives hilarious performances with quick delivery as young Amy, but showcases incredible depth in Amy’s present-day argument with Laurie about the realities of marriage for women of her time. Hearing Pugh tell Chalamet, “Don’t sit here and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition, because it is. It may not be for you but it most certainly is for me,” is both heartbreaking and awe-inspiring.

Gerwig’s March sisters are refreshingly problematic. They can be cruel, imposing and embarrassing. Jo showcases her self-importance only a handful of scenes into the film, storming to her room like a child when Louis Garrel’s Friedrich Bhaer does not like her writing. The audience may even hate Jo when she allows Laurie to wallow in his unrequited love for her until she cannot ignore his pain any further. 

Jo’s refusal to fall in love on the basis of being a woman is an essential conflict throughout the movie, which makes the story even richer. Watching Jo fight to be independent and prioritize her dreams while breaking down from loneliness is one of the most poignant scenes in the film. It is a relief to see a strong female character crumble so honestly. Ronan and Gerwig turn the trope on its back to reveal the pain and effort Jo faces in pursuit of standing alone and prioritizing her passions. 

Like all of Gerwig’s little women, Jo is remarkably imperfect. In the same scenes where Jo is being selfish, Amy is burning novels and Meg is struggling to defend her dreams. Despite this, the sisters are cozy, warm and an exact depiction of what happens when women love and depend on one another.