“Little Women” (2019) is, in a word, sublime.
This recent remake of the classic, eponymous Louisa May Alcott novel reaffirms its timeless nature, while simultaneously showing that this story still has new angles and edges the world has yet to see.
The well-known story of the four March sisters, Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Jo (Saoirse Ronan), set during the American Civil War, explores themes of domestic life, love, identity and feminism.
Director Greta Gerwig, of “Ladybird” fame, springs new life from this 152-year-old story. She subverts the classic form by beginning in the sisters’ adulthood and interspersing flashbacks of childhood. In doing this, the 2019 version becomes the first one to give true justice to the adult women these ‘little women’ become.
In fact, the true splendor of this film lies in the way it rounds out every sister, forcing Jo, the narrator and author stand-in of the semi-autobiographical story, to finally step back and allow their stories to be told.
“Just because my dreams are different than yours, doesn’t mean they’re unimportant,” Meg tells Jo in one pinnacle scene.
While still highlighting Jo’s journey, Gerwig also details the three other March sisters’ respective dreams and journeys, doing her utmost to give them equal screen time. In doing so, this film also expands the theme of feminism depicted in previous iterations of “Little Women” to be one that is more inclusive of all women’s dreams and aspirations, not just the most radical.
Instead, these March sisters demonstrate that any woman doing what she wants to do, however conventional or not, in a world that tries to determine it for her, is a feminist. Therefore, each March sister in this iteration is a feminist character, not just Jo. No longer is Amy merely foil for Jo or Meg, “just a housewife.” No longer is Beth simply “the girl who dies.” Instead, they are each presented as full people rich with complexity and strength, faults and flaws, each as compassionately and fully realized as Jo.
In fact, it is this demonstration of each girl’s details and contradictions that flesh out the film so well and stop it from being a rehashing of the same old scenes. With more time spent on each individual sister, the audience sees all sides of them, every unique, previously unexplored angle, not just the summary of their being.
Watch the trailer for ‘Little Women’ below.
Meg sacrifices but still wrestles with her vanity; Amy can be cold, but only in the name of pragmatism and Beth is endlessly selfless, but so often at the cost of her own well-being.
They all have their flaws, and their reasoning, which the audience witnesses fully, instead of assuming it’s there, because the film takes time to show it. Even Jo is made to own her weaknesses in this retelling.
“When I get in a passion, I get so savage I could hurt anyone, and I’d enjoy it,” Jo confides to Marmee in one scene.
The character of Jo isn’t stagnant or forgotten in the development of her sisters, but instead, is expanded upon as well. One change is how Gerwig highlights the significance of Jo’s ambitions in this adaptation rather than let them be overshadowed by her love life, like in previous telling’s. Gerwig even goes so far as to change the ending of the story in order to accomplish this.
Additionally, Jo displays new, softer edges in this retelling. She still wants to be a great author. She still wants to be free. She still wants to remain unmarried. She is still sick of people saying that love is all a woman is fit for.
“But I’m so lonely,” Jo says.
In this critical moment in the film, the audience witnesses a vulnerability in Jo that has never truly been shown before, and it can be felt throughout the entire room, reverberating within each person watching.
This new take on “Little Women” fulfills the characters of each sister so fully that every girl who watches it can see herself in any of them. No longer does anyone who reads or sees “Little Women” have only Jo to aspire to. Each sister here is worthy of imitation, aspiration and above all, understanding.
The 2019 remake is by far the greatest “Little Women” yet. It brings more than justice to its source material and, finally, to these long-underdeveloped characters. The visuals and costumes are breathtaking. Other supporting characters like Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), Marmee (Laura Dern) and countless more also bring dazzling light to this performance.
However, the complexity and detail culminating in the full representation of womanhood in this film is what guarantees this “Little Women” will stand the test of time.