Color me wrong. The best kind of wrong.
There were many happy surprises throughout a film that I was prepped not to like, but found myself charmed instead. It reminded me a bit of the book > film adaptation Mansfield Park (1999) which fills out the heroine’s personality (Fanny Price) with characteristics of the story’s author (Jane Austen). A huge deviation from the book, but something that works for one of Austen’s most criticized heroines.
There’s flecks of Louisa May Alcott’s actual life peppered into Jo’s story in the film (her meetings with her publisher) which rely less on the source text of Little Women and more on the actual journey of Alcott as an author. Not a bad choice considering I think the book, overall, is a bit more saccharine than Alcott seemed to be herself.
A friend tipped me off that the story was told in a non-linear fashion, events unfold out of sequence and the movie does a great deal of timeline hopping. This actually reminded me of my initial reading of the novel when I was in high school. I was given the SECOND installment of Little Women, published under the title Good Wives in 1869, as a gift and read it without knowing it was the first half of Alcott’s now famous tale of the March sisters. Much as this reading experience didn’t affect my appreciation of the story – neither did the this choice for the film. A technique of which I am usually skeptical, but Gerwig uses it effectively. One example is with Professor Bhaer.
He’s the first man we meet in the film as it works it’s way back to him again. This gives the audience more familiarity with him than in the book where he can seem like a tacked-on love interest after Jo’s rejection of Laurie. That’s my take on it anyway. If you’re looking for a more in-depth reason as to why Prof. Bhaer is so dreamy in this version I think The Cut covers that pretty well here. And I agree with Gerwig’s choice.
I think the 90s version still has my, overall, favorite casting choices. I won’t harp too much on comparing one film version to another as this is a novel > film comparison, ultimately. I think each adaptation brings it’s own strengths/weaknesses to the table. HOWEVER, if you want a good laugh that will leave you wondering if some critics ever bother to read the source material you can always click here to see why one man thinks what I consider an OK adaptation is OMFG THE BEST EVER. He pretty much hates everything Greta did with a vehement passion and offers no justification tying it back to the actual novel. He says Gerwig “settles for sentimentality.” Classic. Um, have you even *read* Little Women, bro? It’s sentimental AF. Why is that a bad thing? ROTFL. #endrant
Other than that, the reviews I found online were mostly favorable. Mine being one of them. I could go on about casting choices (surprised how much I enjoyed Emma Watson as Meg in this, Gerwig really seemed to bring out her acting chops and not just rely on her Emma Watson-ing), but I think I was pleased with most of them. The actors played well off each other and the sister-dynamic that is so crucial to the telling of Little Women was present and accounted for. Amy was much more grounded in this, but I attribute that to a slight rewriting of her character and less on Florence Pugh’s performance. Another change I didn’t mind.
I think if an audience member comes into this film with no expectations and fresh eyes it can be an amazing experience. I didn’t think a new version of this story was needed. Now, I’m glad we have this one in the canon. I think Gerwig made it just different enough to introduce a new generation to the March sisters and renew an interest in Alcott and her legacy. I just wish the previews didn’t make it seem like such a feminist manifesto, save for a few bolder scenes (Amy’s speech about marriage to Laurie), the film is much more nuanced than that (Jo’s speech to her mother about being independent, but also lonely <— REAL LIFE).
I recommend Little Women (2019) right up there with my other favorite version(s) of the film. Oh yeah, the book is pretty great too.