There’s no dearth of film adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women: there have been six so far! But Greta Gerwig’s 2019 Oscar-nominated film is easily the most effectual for the modern-day audience. The movie, which has feminist undertones, is a splendid example of how to change a book for the better.
When you read Little Women, you might see in yourself one of the characters. It could be Meg’s kindness, Jo’s ambitiousness, Beth’s pleasantness, and Amy’s drive, or maybe a little of each. Loosely based on the author’s life, the book chronicles the sisters’ conflicting period between girlhood and womanhood. Writer-director, Greta Gerwig, has given the movie her own fresh, modern perspective, updating the story in the process.
While the film remains faithful to Alcott's story, Gerwig has altered its structure. Instead of starting the story with the Christmas scene, Gerwig moves forward a few years. The movie opens with the protagonist Jo (Saoirse Ronan) trying to sell her first story to a newspaper editor. This scene sheds light on the bias that Jo faces as a woman and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
This non-linear narration style is one of the key areas where the movie deviates from the book. This radical alteration of the book’s chronology of events expertly contrasts the characters in two different periods of their lives. This way, we are able to look at the story with fresh eyes. This is a masterstroke by Gerwig, who is fast emerging as one of the most distinct new voices in American filmmaking. Gerwig beautifully captures the daily upheavals of the story, and succeeds in making it current, even 150 years later!
Jo’s dialogue, “You will be bored of him in two years and we will be interesting forever," is taken verbatim from the book. It’s surprisingly modern for its time and accepts female relationships being just as important as the romantic ones. In fact, Gerwig has retained most of the original dialogues from the book.
Impressive performances by Saoirse Ronan, Timothee Chalamet, Laura Dern, and Florence Pugh, complement the direction. The minute detailing of the costumes and sets transports us to the 19th century, while the background score is uplifting.
The film doesn’t end with the family celebrating the matriarch Marmee's 60th birthday (like the book does). Instead Gerwig circles back to Jo. Are there wedding bells in her future or does she become a famous writer, and remains single?