Review: Little Women (2019)

Little Women. Directed by Greta Gerwig. Sony Pictures, 2019.

Premiere Impressions

            It’s time for a confession: I’ve never read Little Women. I have never even seen one of the many other adaptations that exists. My extent of knowledge about the material going into the film was the following:

Two people looking at the camera

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Now, I know why this was the only book Rachel Green read more than once. My word, this story is a thing of beauty. Greta Gerwig brings emotional resonance to Little Women, a touching and delightful picture.

            If anyone who is reading this happened to be in the row behind me, I am sorry for potentially disturbing your experience. I cried through pretty much the entire film. I’m not talking sweet, little misty eyes. Tears actively rolled down my cheeks at the overwhelming sweetness on screen. Partially at blame for my surprising emotional release was the score by Alexandre Desplat. It should not be particularly surprising that a ten-time Oscar nominee is able to bring a scene to such emotional heights through music, but the score really has the opportunity to shine here, especially in tender moments. The delicate notes bounce as Jo (Saoirse Ronan) and Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) dance outside of a ball, creating a beautiful moment emblematic of their growing love for one another.

            Speaking of Jo and Laurie, I was delighted to see so many different forms of love portrayed on screen, all effectively conveyed by the superior performances of the supporting cast. Laura Dern’s Marmie cares deeply for her family and for the world around her. More than anyone in the cast (and honestly, at this point, more than maybe most other performers), Dern brought me to tears. Her ability to effectively capture all of the different elements of a nurturer, from patience to withholding, made me swoon. Meryl Streep’s Aunt March understands the world for women in the 1860s and wants the best of what’s possible for her nieces. Streep portrays her as cold and exacting, wise but unwavering, with a love less obvious than many of the other characters. Chalamet expertly portrays Laurie as a young charmer, infatuated by love itself.

            Anchoring all of these performers are the little women themselves, most of whom bring a big presence to their characters. Ronan’s performance as Jo is wonderful, especially her ability to bring the character’s creative spirit to life. I empathized greatly with Jo, navigating a world built for her to marry, when her true loves were her art and her family. Florence Pugh, in particular, provides nuance to a character that, if this portrayal is similar to the novel, I’m assuming is not universally adored. Of all the sisters, Pugh does the best job at delivering noticeable differences between the character’s youth and adulthood. The only performance here that I just did not connect with was Eliza Scanlen’s Beth. To be fair, Beth has the least to do. When she is with her other sisters, the ensemble works. However, when alone, Beth gets to stare and get sick. I understand that she intentionally is supposed to represent the good-hearted spirit of the family, but I briefly wondered—after she fed a doll, talked to horses, and stared some more—if the twist was that she actually was a ghost. That is ridiculous, of course, but I am a ridiculous man.

            Between the wonderful performances, gorgeous costuming, and emotional vision, the clear star of the film is truly Greta Gerwig’s direction. Each piece of the film works so well with the others that, even for someone with no prior knowledge, it is obvious that Gerwig holds the source material close in her heart with great respect for its expressive power. I’m crossing my fingers—just as I did in 2017 after her Lady Bird—that the Oscars rain down for Gerwig and co. I think it would mean a lot for cinema if the Oscars, more a cultural snapshot than an unbiased art celebration, recognized a film with more women in front of and behind the camera than are usually nominated in most of the technical categories combined.

Post-Screening Snippets

  • Laura Dern literally smiled at her daughter and my eyes watered. Why am I like this? Is she my actual mother?
  • When the father arrives and it was Bob Oberdink, I could not help but laugh because I was looking at Bob Oberdink.
  • How much farther would I be in life if I had Timothée Chalamet’s chin? Or eyelashes? Or face?
  • Between Midsommar and Little Women, I am now convinced Florence Pugh is the next big movie star.

The Final Tea

             No film is truly perfect, but Little Women gets pretty darn close. I cannot wait to cry through the next several films Gerwig makes (I hear the next one is a musical—eep!).

GRADE: A+

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