Little Women Is The Wholesome Movie You Need This Holiday Season
When I walked into the theater to watch Little Women, I thought I was going to see a classic book from my childhood turned into a motion picture. But I discovered that it is far more than simply an adaptation. With its talented cast, beautiful aesthetics, and powerful messages, Little Women succeeds in making an old tale relevant to modern-day audiences.
I’ll admit it - I’m a sucker for all things 1800s. The long, elegant dresses and antique furniture make me wonder if perhaps I was born in the wrong century. And in Little Women, I wanted nothing more than to jump into the movie and envelop myself in the world of Civil War-era Boston. The costumes and interior decor are as vivid as they are nostalgic. Director Greta Gerwig intentionally chose to film in the Boston area, including a schoolroom where Louisa May Alcott’s father once taught. Something about the authenticity of the location makes the story come alive. It is almost as if Alcott is filming the movie herself, showing us the dreamlike place where she grew up.
The film differs from the book in that it begins in the present, with the four March sisters as adults, then uses flashbacks to tell the story of what led them to their current situations. At the beginning, some of these transitions are confusing, but as the film progresses it becomes easier to differentiate between the present and the past. This differentiation is also aided by visual cues, such as when Jo cuts her hair short.
Saoirse Ronan, who plays Jo, delivers a stunning performance that pays homage to the classic character while also delving deeper into her complex feelings. While the book portrayed Jo as an independent thinker who doesn’t need a man in her life, the movie gives her a bit more humanity, showing her struggle with wanting to be independent while also feeling a need for companionship. In one of the most moving scenes in the film, Jo cries to her mother Marmee (Laura Dern) about how she feels lonely and wishes to marry Laurie. Marmee challenges her on this, asking if she indeed loves him, and Jo can’t bring herself to say that she does.
Timothée Chalamet, who plays Laurie, also does not disappoint. With his charisma and charm, he captivates the hearts of the viewers - though he fails to captivate Jo’s. It is in the powerful scene where he admits his love for Jo that we see Laurie really come into his own. He is no longer the cute, “pinch my cheeks” neighbor’s grandson, but a young man with deep feelings and a palpable agony when he gets rejected. His complicated feelings are further displayed when he suggests to Amy that she marry him, an almost cringeworthy moment where both Amy and the audience realize that there’s no way he’s fully present since he harbored a great love for Jo for so many years.
The other March sisters are portrayed as somewhat “blah,” and that’s likely because that’s how their characters are in the novel. Granted, each sister has her own moment of depth, such as when Meg (Emma Watson) tells Jo she’s willing to marry a poor man because she loves him, or when Beth (Eliza Scanlen) musters up the courage to play Mr. Lawrence’s piano. Amy (Florence Pugh) still seems to have the least depth, with few moments of actual, deep struggle. Yes, she struggles to stand out while constantly in Jo’s shadow, but her character arc remains fairly flat. Many have commented that for the first time, Amy is given a personality and a reason for her actions, as opposed to simply being the mean sister who burns Jo’s manuscript and ends up married to Laurie. Still, I think there was more room to explore Amy’s motivations.
Of course, no one can forget about old, bitter Aunt March, played by the iconic Meryl Streep. Streep nails Aunt March’s wit and no-nonsense attitude with the subtle humor in her lines. When one of the girls asks her why she’s allowed to be unmarried while pressuring her nieces to wed, she responds, “Well, that’s because I’m rich.”
While based on a 19th century story, Little Women conveys messages that are relevant to modern audiences. Jo’s struggle to balance being independent and wanting to be loved is a struggle that women still face today. Marmee’s insistence that her daughters be charitable, even when facing their own troubles, is a message of universal importance. Indeed, the world would look better if we were all a little kinder to one another.
Perhaps the movie’s strongest message is the importance of family, and that is where it fits in perfectly with the holiday season. The Marches are willing to sacrifice everything for each other. Even after Amy burns Jo’s book, Jo runs to help her when she’s in trouble. The characters serve as examples of forgiveness, friendship, and unwavering love, and in a season dedicated to family togetherness, these values are as relevant as ever.
Little Women opens in theaters on December 25th.