Greta Gerwig creates a modern masterpiece with classic novel “Little Women”


Wilson Webb/Columbia Pictures

Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen and Florence Pugh as the March sisters in “Little Women.”

In the movie (and book!) “Little Women,” Meg March declares that “it’s so dreadful to be poor!” It’s a widely understood fact that to be lacking makes one sad, but both movie-goers and classic literature fans simply won’t be lacking after seeing this rich and lively movie. Writer and director Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of author Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel will please cinephiles and bibliophiles alike because of its dazzling cast, gripping plot and excellent directing. 

Set in Civil War-era Concord, Massachusetts, “Little Women” follows the lives of the spirited and magnetic four March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. Each has a distinct personality and role within the family, yet they seamlessly work together, becoming the paragon of familial harmony. With their father off fighting for the Union, the girls choose to holistically devote their lives to one another. Alcott, who many suspect was Jo March herself, wrote Little Women as a testament to American romance, domesticity and reality. The film was largely representative of the book but took creative nuances, like introducing parallel time structures that served to create a movie that put watchers on the edge of their seats. 

Adapting a centuries-old novel can be dry, something Gerwig obviously knew, which made her interesting plot structure crucial to keeping the film as an unwinding mystery. Gerwig starts the movie in the sisters’ adulthood, showcasing Jo March selling the manuscript to be published. She then takes us back to their childhood, to the heart of the lives of the March sisters–the “Little Women.” Gerwig introduces snippets of the future that confuse the viewer, but later falls back into the past to explain the event she showcases. While this was confusing at times, it ultimately engaged and encouraged viewers to think critically of the plot. To differentiate time structures, Gerwig had childhood scenes set in a golden light while scenes of adulthood used cooler tones and shades of gray. This strategy kept the movie interesting…and so did the breathtaking cast. 

Timothée Chalamet and Emma Watson–two of the loves of my life–starred in this film, making every scene seem filled with life and light. Watson was cast as Meg, the oldest and unofficial leader of the March sisters, and channeled her inner Hermione Granger as she bossed––but in a sisterly way––her siblings around. Meg’s gentle character was aided by Watson’s calm demeanor and stage presence. Second to Watson was Timothée Chalamet, cast as boy-next-door and eye candy Theodore “Laurie” Laurence. Laurie was a swoon-worthy character and practically a member of the March sisters. Despite announcing his love for Jo, who (in my opinion wrongfully) turns him down, Laurie marries the youngest (and most horrible sister), Amy. Played by Florence Pugh, Amy was the least likable sister. She throws a fit when she doesn’t get her way, whines when she’s upset and as Jo so perfectly phrases it “get[s] out of the hard parts of life.” Contrasting with Amy’s obnoxious and raucous character is Beth, played by Eliza Scanlen. Beth is the quietest but most musical of the sisters. Her caring and quiet demeanor makes her eventual death a difficult loss for the March family. The movie revolves around the trials and tribulations these five faced, taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. 

“Little Women” unfolds as the Civil War winds down. Race was the issue of the time, but it was something Gerwig glossed over in the film entirely. A closer read of the original book would have revealed that Laurie should have been played by any non-white actor due to his “curly black hair, brown skin” and “big black eyes” (Alcott). This was a missed opportunity for Gerwig to have had a broader social impact and create important conversations. She did succeed however in introducing notions of feminism into the characters. It would be hard to find a more feminist nineteenth-century character than Jo March with her declarations that she will never marry, dress up or settle down. While these things did eventually happen, they were on her own terms, accelerating the importance of discovering one’s identity–a key theme of the book. 

There are many ways to spend the dwindling days of winter break, but it’s clear that seeing “Little Women” is the best one. The transportative film will take you back to the simple but relatable lives of the March sisters, the Little Women. With fiery characters, an astute attention to detail and heartwarming stories, “Little Women” is a must-see.


The Parkway West Pathfinder gives “Little Women” a 9.1/10