Last year had “A Star Is Born” and now this year’s “remake of a film that gets redone every 25 years” is “Little Women.”
“Little Women” is the eighth adaptation of the 1868 novel of the same name, this time written and directed by Greta Gerwig. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Chris Cooper and Meryl Streep, the plot follows four young sisters in 1860s New England as they try and make their way through the world.
Films like this, that get redone and redone, often attract impressive casts and this is no different. Gerwig, who received two Oscar nominations for her debut film “Lady Bird” in 2017, brings back Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet from that film as her two main stars and lovers. On their own, the two turn in fine performances as a striving writer and spoiled party boy, respectively. Ronan and Chalamet share a small amount of will they-won’t they chemistry, but they aren’t exactly an Emma Stone/Ryan Gosling pairing that features easy and palpable energy, which I feel is what Gerwig is trying to capture.
The standout is by far Florence Pugh, who also starred in this year’s wonderfully unnerving “Midsommar.” While there she was anxiety-stricken and heart-broken, here Pugh is warm and bubbly and simply a delight. All-too-often she lights up a scene with a simple line delivery, and I truly adored her performance here; when the film focuses on her arc things take a noticeable bump in quality (“I would never sprain my ankle, I have lovely small feet, the best in the family” she says through tears in an attempt to impress a boy; I burst out laughing). Big names like Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper also pop up in glorified cameos to add some gravitas, and (likely future Oscar-winner for “Marriage Story”) Laura Dern is also always welcome.
The production value is quite impressive, especially given the film had a production budget of “only” $42 million. Set in 1860s Europe and Massachusetts, the costumes and sets, whether they be grand party halls or intimate cottages, feel lived-in and of the time. The lighting is also a nice touch, as it often feels natural and not flooded by studio lights.
The film’s biggest issue comes from Gerwig’s attempt to shake up the age-old tale, and that comes in the form of the film being told in a non-linear narrative. We start at one point before quickly going back seven years, and then continuously jump back and forth. Sometimes it is unclear where in the storyline we are (having to guess based only on hairstyles, since this isn’t “The Irishman” where they digitally altered the actor’s ages and faces) and not only can it produce a bit of mental whiplash, but it often softens some of the film’s attempts at emotional blows (for reasons I can’t get into).
“Little Women” is a delightful film with a great cast (led by a wonderful Florence Pugh) and impressive visuals and attention to detail. It may not go down as the definitive telling of the story but seeing as every generation gets its own version of it, this one has enough social commentary and relatable themes to resonate with audiences, as well as cast members from several generations of actors to carry the torch.
Critics Rating: 8/10