Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women, the fictional story of the March family and their four daughters, has long been viewed as a quintessential coming of age story, so much so that it has been adapted for the screen seven times since 1917 (PBS). Most recently, acclaimed filmmaker Greta Gerwig has reimagined Little Women as a breathtakingly emotional film. Gerwig’s Little Women is notable for a number of reasons. The movie boasts an all-star cast with accomplished actors such as Meryl Streep in the role of Aunt March, Emma Watson as Meg, and Timothée Chalamet as Laurie. Saoirse Ronan as Jo and Florence Pugh as Amy have been nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively.
Gerwig utilizes two timelines to tell the story, so the movie begins with Jo March living and writing in New York, Meg at home with her husband, Beth living in their childhood home, and Amy away in Paris. The film continuously flashes back six years in the past when the March girls are growing up in their Massachusetts home during the Civil War. The two timelines transition into one another seamlessly creating parallels between the events of the girls’ past and present lives. This technique allows Gerwig to create incredibly poignant scenes. In the words of Ramapo senior Erin Thompson, “even though it’s a period piece, every emotion in the movie feels relatable to experiences of young people now.” This contrast also highlights the warmth and comfort of the girls’ childhood and the much colder nature of their adult lives.
Gerwig’s Little Women easily stands out to audiences because it portrays each character with an equally sympathetic tone. Unlike other film incarnations of Alcott’s work, this new version does not paint any one character as a villain. Rather than representing good or evil, each of the March sisters represents different emotions associated with adolescence and growing up. Meg, the eldest sister, spends much of her young life wishing to be someone else. Beth, the youngest March sister, is a shy timid child that dreams of helping others. Amy longs to be included in her older sisters’ social lives. Jo March, the movie’s main character, is an embodiment of stubbornness; she often becomes so invested in her own interests, in chasing greatness, she forgets the world around her. Each of these characters is able to grow and change in a way that feels natural; Gerwig uses every character to depict emotions associated with coming of age instead of focusing only on Jo.
The character that is most obviously seen in a new light is Amy. The second youngest March sister, Amy is often remembered for being an annoyance to her sister Jo and later for betraying Jo through her marriage. However, in Gerwig’s adaptation Amy is not a bad person; like every character, she is displayed with both flaws and strengths. Audiences easily feel sympathetic for her in a way that contradicts earlier Little Women films. It is a testament to Gerwig’s writing that this film can alter peoples’ perceptions of characters that have been negatively viewed for more than one hundred years.
The March sisters, Meg, Amy, Jo, and Beth (from left to right), in their childhood home.
Photo Credit: The Guardian