Greta Gerwig's take on Louisa May Alcott's straightforward epic is elevated by the chemistry between the cast, who include Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh and Emma Watson
Louisa May Alcott famously did not want to write what became her signature 1868 novel Little Women, and its success surprised her. It might surprise her still to learn that for all its antiquated conclusions about womanhood and marriage (which she herself railed against), it has never been out of print and no generation since has been without multiple adaptations, for the radio, television, stage or big screen.
In the latest edition, Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig has shrewdly discerned what continues to register so powerfully about the tale of the March sisters – Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) – coming of age in Civil War-era New England. It is a tale of authorship and ambition, of art and autonomy, and, indeed, the inescapable trouble of falling in love.
Gerwig has revised the straightforward epic around their lives as adults, centralising Jo’s clandestine writing career in New York and Amy’s artistic endeavours in Europe. Those halcyon scenes of adolescence now arrive in glossy, occasionally hamfisted flashbacks. But for the most part this is a strength that allows the film to explore the personal and professional concessions they must make as women, especially women authors, in a move grimly aware of its contemporary implications. Even so, characters do a lot of announcing the film’s already transparent interiority: Amy calls marriage an "economic proposition" and later, a grieving Jo laments that love is deemed "all a woman is fit for" before she admits, "But I’m so lonely!"
Both Ronan and Pugh – by now reliably – deliver artful performances. The usually charismatic Timothée Chalamet makes for a muted Laurie compared to the dynamic turn from big-screen predecessor Christian Bale. But it really is the chemistry between the cast that elevates the film, an elegant – if sometimes sentimental – portrayal of motherhood and sisterhood. [Kelli Weston]