Little Women brings newfound warmth and sensitivity to a timeless story

Colleen Secaur, Anna Conroy, and Mia Snow

Greta Gerwig, although having directed two movies, has built her entire career off of telling stories by and about women. In Frances Ha, she co-writes and portrays a 20-something struggling with a breakup more emotionally devastating than one with any man, that of her and her best friend. In Lady Bird, she directs and writes a beautifully wrought film about an overly idealistic teenage girl and her mercurial relationship with her mother. Now, retelling a story that has been brought to film countless times, Gerwig once again lends her warm and loving directorial flourish to Little Women.

The film, based on the bestselling novel by Louisa May Alcott, tracks the lives of the four March sisters–Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth–as they seek to forge their own paths in post-Civil War America. Rather than chronologically following each sister from childhood to adulthood, Gerwig constructs the story as though Jo, as an adult in the present, is narrating their lives in the past, with the timeline taking place in the past eventually meeting the present. While I was expecting this approach to be grating, it actually grew on me as the movie went on. Considering the sheer lengthiness of the source material, going through the plot chronologically simply wouldn’t have been an enthralling viewing experience.

The performances, as expected by the star-studded cast, were exceptional. In particular, Saoirse Ronan as Jo March and Florence Pugh as Amy March were stand-outs that should be worthy inclusions into the awards season discourse (although reportedly male awards voters are electing to skip out on offered showings of Little Women). The former has already proved herself to be a brilliant actress to carry out Gerwig’s writing and direction in Lady Bird as the titular heroine, and the character of Jo carries a similar sense of rebellion for rebellion’s sake, and of bucking the norms she’s expected to follow. 

The latter, Pugh, has already had a breakout year in film with a lead role in the horror film Midsommar and the Marvel action film Black Widow slated for release in March. Pugh is expected to play first a 13-year-old, then a 21-year-old, in the span of one film. Not only does she pull it off, but her comedic timing as young Amy and a newfound sense of maturity as adult Amy sells the character’s emotional arc perfectly. Some of the most winning and memorable scenes of Little Women revolve around her pining after the March girls’ object of interest, Laurie (Timothee Chalamet).

Even more than the performances, however, was the wonderfully sensitive way with which Gerwig filmed the scenes with all four sisters. Although the story takes place in the 19th century, watching the film felt like a timeless ode to the unique bond between sisters that could very well be enthralling in the 21st century.