There is such mastery in how director and screenwriter Greta Gerwig reimagines Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, ‘Little Women.’ Gerwig’s movie transforms Alcott’s story about four sisters in 19th Century America into a sweeping testament of the history of women’s struggles to lead their lives under their own terms. While each sister has ambitions of their own, these goals inform their relationships with each other and with the people around them.
Every moment is bursting with energy as each sister tries to realise their own hopes and dreams and, in the process, has to navigate the constant shifting dynamics of their relationships as well as society’s expectations and the pressure to conform.
Saoirse Ronan plays Jo, the passionate writer, who constantly pushes against the boundaries of society and dreams of having a life that is entirely her own and on her own terms. Emma Watson plays Meg, who is frustrated with being poor but understands how society works, and is willing to play the game and marry well. The shy and introverted Beth is played by Eliza Scanlen, who is happy to be in the background while her sisters shine. And Florence Pugh plays Amy, the youngest and who invariably feels the most left out, with dreams as big as Jo and desires to be an artist of great renown.
At the center of this family is Marmee, the matriarch of the March family, played by Laura Dern. The paragon of goodness, she is the heart of this family and holds everyone together as they are all bound to their own desires.
Told in two parallel narratives -- the past and the present -- Gerwig’s choice to tell the story in two separate timelines rather than one straight linear story amplifies the passion of each of these women and the choices that they make and where it leads them. The rewards and consequences that these women face are in direct relation to the choices that they made, which were shaped by the forces pushing against them.
But this film also shows how hard these women pushed back. In the present, Jo is a writer in New York, making ends meet by selling her stories to newspapers while tutoring children on the side. In the past, she dreams of a life that is her own while she is constantly told by everyone around her that if she continues in this vein, she would never get married and never be comfortable.
But Jo does have a suitor, the rich neighbour Laurie, played by Timothee Chalamet. She has a way out from a dreary existence of a single woman in the 19th Century, and this is made painfully clear from the juxtaposition of both past and present. The same can be said with Meg and Amy, whose life trajectories are revealed to be very different from what they imagined.
Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ is a celebration of life and womanhood. Through its narrative structure where the past and present are told simultaneously, what is amplified in this retelling is how hard these women had to fight to define themselves from a society that wanted nothing more from them than to bear children.
It’s a wonderful movie full of heart and passion and resistance. Saoirse Ronan delivers another passionate performance, creating a character that is such a force of nature that she commands attention. But it is Florence Pugh who steals the show as her portrayal of Amy in the past and present are almost two completely different performances. Just through costume and incredible acting abilities, Pugh manages to differentiate Amy from the past, a young girl who is still not old enough to attend parties, to Amy in the present, who is wiser, more restrained, more aware. It’s a scene-stealing display of acting prowess, especially when you know she has just done ‘Midsommar’ half a year ago.
Everything about ‘Little Women’ is resonant and contemporary. It is joyful and celebratory of its depiction of these characters, but it doesn’t shy away from its criticism of the patriarchy, which is recognizable in today’s society. This is Greta Gerwig’s third feature length film on the director’s chair and she is a force to be reckoned with; a visionary director and screenwriter bursting with energy and heart.
It is a tragedy that she was not nominated for Best Director at the recently concluded Oscars. In my opinion, she did a better job than three of the other nominees in that list.
'Little Women' opens in cinemas nationwide on February 19, 2020. Find showtimes and book your tickets in advance!