Even though we’ve already had so many film versions of Louisa May Alcott’s novel, I was still looking forward to this one. That’s because actress, now director, Greta Gerwig — gave us one of the best experiences at the movies in 2017 with Lady Bird. Yet with Little Women having a non-linear narrative, which actually starts in the middle of the story…it never quite works.
It begins with Jo (Saorise Ronan of Lady Bird) as an adult, turning in a short story to publisher Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts, who was great as Ford in Ford v Ferrari). Watching him chomp a cigar while he edits and complains about the things in the story, gave me high hopes for this.
Anyone who has read the cherished novel knows that this scene embellishes on a mere mention in the novel. Gerwig takes many liberties with the source material in an attempt to modernize the story which will surely drive puriests mad. Her attempt to show the main character, Jo, in a much more feminist light are only partly successful due to inconsistency.
The action flits from various locations, and characters at different ages in the story. Sometimes the switches are done so quickly, there just isn’t enough time for proper character development. And because my memory of the original story wasn’t great, I was a bit confused by some of what was going on. My wife, who was looking forward to this movie more than any other this year, kept me up to speed.
The cast is almost perfect. Ronan is a talented actress, but didn’t feel like the same Jo. Timothee Chalamet, who played a boyfriend briefly in Lady Bird, was the best casting decision, as Laurie. He is simply the quintessential Laurie and this guy has yet to be in a film where he didn’t floor me.
Laura Dern, who was so great as the feisty lawyer in Marriage Story, has the perfect face and expressions for a more modern take on Marmee. Her later scenes with Jo are quite touching.
Eliza Scanlen plays the quiet sister, Beth, and has very little to do in this version of the story.
Florence Pugh, who impressed the hell out of me in Midsommar, is showing she’s an actress with a lot of talent, playing a very driven Amy in this.
Emma Watson, who is usually impressive, felt miscast as Meg. Watson’s natural, innate intelligence overshadows her character whose prime focus is family and love, not intellect and accomplishment.
And of course, no one will have a problem with Meryl Streep playing Aunt March. She perfectly captures the character’s equal measures of snobbery and ridiculousness.
The set design and costumes will get the Oscar nominations they deserve. It’s just a shame that this story is all over the place and a bit of a convoluted mess. While the director attempted to bring the story into the modern era, showing the limited options available to young women, the attempt fails and makes me feel this latest version was unwarranted.
At almost 2 ½ hours, it gets a bit boring.
2 stars out of 5. My wife, whose lists this as one of her favorite books, gives this version 2 ½ stars out of 5.