Alyssa Leong ’23
The newest on-screen adaptation of “Little Women” portrays a moving, tender story of love–not only romantic love, but also the love shared between friends and sisters. With her most recent movie, writer and director Greta Gerwig has created a timeless new classic relatable to the modern day woman.
“Little Women” was originally a novel by Louisa May Alcott published in 1868. Based on Alcott’s own life, the beloved classic follows sisters Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth growing up in the Civil War era. Although the story has been made into seven adaptations for both the big and small screens, Gerwig’s 2019 release gives the well-worn tale a breath of fresh air.
Unlike the linearity of past “Little Women” adaptations, the full emotional breadth of the original story is conveyed through a timeline that switches back and forth between childhood and adulthood. While the actresses playing the sisters stay the same throughout the movie (Emma Watson as Meg, Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Florence Pugh as Amy and Eliza Scanlen as Beth), the childhood timeline is bathed in golden hues whereas the adulthood timeline is cast with cooler tones. This unconventional technique not only conveys greater emotional impact, but enriches the character development for each March sister as well.
For example, scenes of an older Jo returning to her hometown alone paralleled with a younger Jo with her sisters in the same locations show how family is important to her. By placing her loved ones leaving her one after the other (both in the metaphorical and literal senses), Gerwig emphasizes how moving on never gets easier; rather, it’s about the memories we share with our loved ones that matter the most.
The only deviation from the original novel lies in the fact the March women gain a higher sense of autonomy in Gerwig’s adaptation. The movie ends with Jo negotiating the rights and profit from her book with the publisher, a parallel to what Louisa May Alcott had to go through to publish her own book. Additionally, a scene in which an adult Amy confronts Laurie’s opinion of marriage being irrational, reveals her maturity and understanding of the world. Amy tells him she believes “we have some power over who we love, it isn’t something that just happens to a person.” She goes onto explain that marriage is an economic problem for a woman, especially one of her social standing. Both of these scenes show the powerful notion of women taking the narrative in their own hands (literally, in Jo’s case).
The powerful plot is enhanced by the inclusion of some of the greatest young actors in Hollywood today, especially Ronan, Pugh and Timothée Chalamet (Theodore “Laurie” Lawrence). The entire cast brings new levels of heart and dimension to each character and the actors have palpable chemistry, most notably Ronan and Chalamet. Their offscreen friendship is evident through their portrayal of Jo and Laurie’s close familial relationship.
“Little Women” is also an impressive technical feat, as Gerwig’s attention to detail through costume design, screenplay and direction were essential to the final product.
Most importantly, perhaps, “Little Women” makes its audience feel a full spectrum of emotions, from unadulterated joy to crushing loneliness. It not only puts the viewer in the shoes of the March family, but is a mediation on modern-day femininity as well.
Watching these young women support each other and stand up for their rights on screen, I couldn’t help but think of the Scripps community. Much like the March sisters, the students of Scripps are all women coming of age in a turbulent time. Despite the challenges we face, many students continue to uplift and stand for other Scrippsies while fighting for what is right.
No scene represents this more than the end of “Little Women” showing the young daughters of publisher Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts) begging their father for more stories about “the little women,” along with shots of girls playing together. Although this may seem like small scenes in such a large scale movie, it was particularly striking to me. Not only did it remind me of how Louisa May Alcott’s story has inspired generations of girls but it showed me that I had the power to as well.
Amy says it best when she tells Jo that “writing doesn’t confer importance, it reflects it.” Rather than waiting for someone to tell her her life story was worthy of being told, Alcott took the leap and wrote it herself. Her novel defied expectations and became a classic that has been a literary staple for girls everywhere. With Alcott’s book and this movie, the audience is asked: how will you reflect what is important to you?
“Little Women” is a story that is personal to generations of women, as well as Gerwig herself, and it certainly shows. It is an intimate, tender movie that depicts not only the experience of women but the human experience as a whole.
Illustration Credit: Vivan Monteiro ’23