Little Women (2019) The Saoirse Ronan
                    A review by Corinne H. Smith
 One of the major film interpretations of the semi-autobiographical American novel written by Louisa May Alcott. Known to fans as “the Saoirse Ronan,” because she is the actress who portrays Jo(sephine) March, the main character. This version was released on Christmas day, 2019.



     This is the story of the four March sisters – Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Amy (Florence Pugh). We see what draws them together and what pushes them apart. We witness their warm devotion to their mother, whom they call Marmee (Laura Dern). The story is set mostly in Concord, Massachusetts, in the early 1860s; and the main action centers around the most independent girl, second daughter Jo. Their father, Mr. March (Bob Odenkirk), is at first away from home and is involved in the war effort. The Marches were once well off but now have to make do with what they have. Every once in a while, they get a visit from their stodgy but rich relative, Aunt March (Meryl Streep), who dishes out a lot of judgment. And then there’s the boy next door, known as Laurie (Timothee Chalamet), who lives with his wealthy grandfather, Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper). They both become good friends of the March family. Jo and Laurie hit it off right away. Will their friendship become something stronger? You’ll find out.

The first time you watch this movie, you’ll probably be confused. Director and screenwriter Greta Gerwig is an ardent fan of Miss Alcott’s book. And she wanted to bring a fresh perspective to it. To do this, she starts in the middle of the story and uses a series of flashbacks to fill in the blanks. We’re given a textual reference on the screen for only the first backstory. This disjointed back and forth works fine with an informed audience. Otherwise, it makes for confusion. The other Little Women that used flashbacks was the Sarah Davenport of 2018. Then we were given date references on the screen, each time the technique was used. And younger actors were used when the girls were children. It made sense. Here’s a hint to keep your wits about you, for this one: watch for Jo’s hair length and Amy’s braids. They’ll clue you in on the proper chronology.

The second time you watch this movie, you’ll witness its power. Crowd scenes that were at first blurry will now suddenly make the stars pop, as if you were viewing them through 3D glasses. The scale of the production will become borderline magnificent. The fashions, the architecture, the carriages, the food. It’s as if you’re right there with the Marches and the Laurences. You can more fully enjoy the experience and can even become part of it, the second time around.

Greta Gerwig gets major kudos for filming the movie in Massachusetts and for using local folks for extras. It’s the most authentically set Little Women to date. We residents can recognize some of the places. Everything looks right and familiar. Gerwig also does well by framing the movie around Jo’s writing career. She gives us special, unexpected insights into the publishing process of the 1800s. Good jobs, here.

I have two quibbles. First, the reason Jo went to New York is revealed only in passing, in her last letter to Laurie. Newcomers to this story should be given more information. We need the scene when she complains to Marmee that she longs for a change of pace. And secondly: Where is Laurie’s musicality, here? He’s supposed to want to be a musician. He shows nothing of this interest, except when he tells Amy in France that he’s writing an opera. His artistic bent is his reason for resisting going into his grandfather’s business. We need to see proof of it.

[Note to future LW filmmakers: Can we have a Beth, a Laurie, and a Professor Bhaer who are actually able to play the piano, as their characters do in the book? This keyboard fakery is tiresome. And obvious.]

Saoirse Ronan plays Jo with an ever-present urgency and curiosity, which is refreshing. Emma Watson is polite and perfect for Meg. Laura Dern is a soothing presence as Marmee. Meryl Streep, of course, is the best person today to be a rich and cantankerous aunt. Timothee Chalamet makes for an adorable good boy-bad boy Laurie. Chris Cooper is warm and real as the rich yet kindly neighbor, Mr. Laurence. French-born actor Louis Garrel is wonderful as Friedrich Bhaer, and I wish Jo had a few more scenes with him.

The person who steals the show for me is Florence Pugh. Amy is the character who has to transform the most over the course of the movie; and she does this, both physically and personally. Other Amys of the past were just snotty brats who grew up to be somewhat snooty dilettantes. Not this Amy, this time. She becomes more mature as she ages. Gerwig’s approach puts Amy on equal footing with Jo. I think Florence Pugh has an award-winning performance here.

I have to admit that during the time of the filming, Emma Watson and a companion walked into my workplace and asked for directions. I gave them the information and they left, even as I saw that the co-worker standing next to me had turned suddenly catatonic. See, I had the advantage of not knowing who Emma Watson was. I guess I’ll know her now, if she ever stops in again.

The bottom line is that to fully appreciate this film’s approach and scale, and to overcome its initial confusion, you have to see it more than once. And you have to have read Miss Alcott’s book. Recently. Go back now and do it.

The Little Women of 2019 has been preceded by the Katharine Hepburn (1933), the June Allyson (1949), the Angela Down (1970), the Susan Dey (1978), the Winona Ryder (1994), the Maya Hawke (2017), and the Sarah Davenport (2018). If you’re curious, you could watch some of the others and make your own decisions about them. All have unique interpretations. And yet, none of the movies can cover the detail discovered in the book.

Thanks for stopping by!

The Little Women Project: Reviews of all of the Movies

Blogs | Books | Non-Fiction| Stories | Poetry
Reviews I Write | Programs | Events | Contact | Home