Review by ChloeHerbert
While there’s certainly a lot of attention on Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” the neglection of character development central to the nineteenth century novel makes it heartless and unsatisfying. Following the lives of the
March sisters — maternal Meg, fiery Jo, kindhearted Beth and attention-seeking Amy — “Little Women” tells the story of love, success, failure and family as the girls grow up during the American Civil War. Leaning on and learning from one another, the girls’ distinctive personalities help to highlight their talents and weaknesses as they struggle to provide for their family while following their own dreams.
Gerwig flashes back and forth over time throughout the entire movie, and only devoted “Little Women” fans will be able to notice iconic moments — Jo’s (Saoirse Ronan) curling iron accident and Amy’s (Florence Pugh) rage-fueled revenge scene — as they flash by, insignificant to the 2019 adaptation. With heaps of screen time given to Amy and Jo, we never get to see Meg (Emma Watson) develop; one day she’s attending a party in ill-fitting shoes and the next she’s crying with her husband. We never get to see her grow and mature the way Jo and Amy do. Perhaps Meg’s lack of character development is for the better, as she comes off as vain and stiff.
Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) isn’t any better. Instead of being the lively, likeable boy-next-door who befriends the March sisters, he’s a gangly bore who cannot seem to show affection, or much of any emotion for that matter. Most heartbreakingly, the role March matriarch Marmie (Laura Dern) is diminished to the point where her appearance feels like an afterthought, a stark opposite of the strong, loving leader Alcott created who struggles to raise her daughters and control her temper while her husband is away at war.
The sisters’ eagerness to break all of the rules and roles set forth by society takes Alcott’s empowering message, that women can turn their dreams into reality while being supportive daughters, caring sisters and loving wives, and focuses only on the March girls’ desire for self-fulfillment. Gerwig’s interpretation grinds the value of motherhood and marriage to dust, settling for a film about a flat message instead of a heartwarming story.
In contrast to the characters, the technical aspects provide a bit of redemption to Gerwig’s work. Alexandre Desplat’s score is stunning and fresh. The cinematography and use of light is superb. And costume designer Jacqueline Durran’s bohemian take on typical middle class Victorian style manages to be fresh and detailed without being completely off the wall.
Gerwig’s adaptation, the sixth adaptation of the novel since the first in 1917, certainly delivered in terms of visual appeal and soundtrack, but lacks the novel’s charm and timelessness. Go see “Little Women,” rated PG and nominated for six Oscar awards, for the cinematography and music, but read the book for a heartwarming, feel-good story.