Since its publication in 1868, the story of the March sisters has been adapted for the screen and stage on numerous occasions. We had a theatre play, an opera, a ballet, a musical, and some mini-series based on Louisa May Alcott's book. But maybe the best-known adaptations are the ones made for the big screen: In 1933, 1949, and the one that my generation grew up with, Gillian Amstrong's version from 1994.
I have read Little Women so many times during my life that I have a very clear idea of how the characters speak, behave, and look like. I have a clear vision of how different scenes play out. As I am sure every person who loves the book does, I have a very personal interpretation of the story and its meaning that I have developed through the years.
When you watch an adaptation, you are watching the interpretation that other people made of the story; you are watching it from a stranger's perspective. I would not change a thing about the original text, so the transition to a movie script is hard for me to accept. That is why I am never really happy with any of the adaptations. Still, I always watch them, if merely out of curiosity. And the constant publicity that this one received made it impossible for me to resist. Here my thoughts on Greta Gerwig's Little Women.
Why Should You Be Watching It?
I have been hearing so much about this movie these past few months. Even though I have not put much hope into this adaptation, I went to the cinema feeling a bit excited.
Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig had already proven to be a good team in Lady Bird, and I had also enjoyed some of Ronan's work, which is always brilliant. The film had Merryl Streep, Laura Dern, and Emma Watson, and I had heard about a very promising actress playing the part of Amy. With all that, even if the movie did not turn out to be completely satisfactory to me, it was still going to be worth watching.
Having said all that, it is time to confess: I did not like it. It is not that the movie is terrible, but I do not think I would care to watch it again.
The first thing that bothered me, just in the beginning of the film, was the fact that it does not follow the timeline of the novel: It starts in the second part of the book, Good Wives, and we get to see flashbacks from the first part. From there on, it is constantly jumping from one part to the other, and I think that if I had not read the book before, it would have been quite confusing to watch.
Florence Pugh, who I was impatient to see due to her Oscar nomination, gave a really good performance as older Amy, but it was strange to see her also playing 12-year-old Amy. Pugh, despite the addition of a sympathetic fringe, did not look like a child. In some scenes, her child-like mannerisms looked ridiculous. Despite her best efforts, she could not help but look precisely like what she is: A 20-year-old girl playing a 12-year-old one.
Jo and Amy's relationship was historically not the best, but in this movie, the fact that they are hitting each other all the time called to my attention. I suppose that it was intended to be funny, but I did not think it was.
Emma Watson was also there, but I barely noticed her in the nearly two hours and a half. None of her scenes were extraordinary in any way. Beth was sweet, but not as shy as in the book. Jo and Beth's relationship, which I adore, is never really made justice in any of the adaptations, and this one was no different. I cried when Beth died, as I knew I would. On-screen or in print, Beth's death is just too painful.
Jo and Laurie's "love story" was too exaggerated. Jo did not write Laurie a letter telling him that she wants to marry him in the novel, and I did not like that little addition at all. Jo and Laurie had a very close friendship, but I do not think she was ever in love with him.
Saoirse Ronan was a good Jo, but I could not help but think that her interpretation was a little intense. I always imagined Jo to be very lively and energetic, but at some points, there was somehow too much energy in her performance. She had some scenes that I like, though.
And there were also the feminist speeches. I know including them in the movies is in fashion nowadays, but it was another thing that did not manage to convince me. I admit that Amy's speech about marriage and Jo's about women's role were powerful, and probably one of the best scenes in the movie. For me, Little Women has always been a feminist book, even before feminism as a concept had such an impact as it has now. And none of the women in the book gives a speech about women's rights explicitly. For me, the charm of the story is that it shows us different kinds of women, who choose different kinds of lives and let us know that all of them are right. Do you want to get married? That's right. Do you want to work and be independent? Do you want to stay at home? Do you want to be famous and recognized? Do you want to have kids and take care of a family? That's also right! It is completely valid, and now, more than a century after Louisa May Alcott published her novel, it is also becoming a reality. What she wrote was revolutionary at the time, and it is inspiring today. I hear so many people talking about feminism every day! Us women are capable of achieving whatever we want, and I like that in the book it does not have to be constantly said to be true. Being these scenes the ones that steal all the protagonism, they put the focus of the movie in feminism, and not in other things that are equally important. There are plenty of movies and tv shows about feminism, so I think it would have been better to bring people's attention to the other recurring topic in the novel: Family values. The idea of family love as something that can present fight to the most difficult and painful situations in life is a message I think is of even more important to this generation than for the one Alcott originally wrote the story for.
There was a change that I did like: The movie shows Jo publishing her book. That was amazing. In the novel, we get to know that Jo has written something about her sisters and herself. I have also read Little Men, in which we see Jo years after the events of Little Women; married, with two young children of her own, and taking care of her pupils in Plumfield School. And I have always wondered: Did she finally publish her work? Or did she decide to devote herself to her school? I like that Greta Gerwig and I imagined the same thing.
Merryl Streep nailed it as Aunt March. She was as grumpy and sarcastic as she should be. Laura Dern was alright as Marmee, but I think I feel more comfortable with Susan Sarandon playing that character.
And of course, I am going to mention Alexandre Desplat's soundtrack because he is one of my favorite composers and he always does a great job.
In conclusion, this is not my favorite adaptation. But I am going to say it again: As an absolute admirer of the book, I cannot be completely impartial about this movie. Maybe I am being too hard on it.
I know that many people think that this is the best adaptation so far, and even if I cannot agree, I do hope that many young people watch it and find it enjoyable. So enjoyable that they decide to read the book and discover Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy for themselves.
© 2020 Literarycreature
Literarycreature (author) from Argentina on February 18, 2020:
If you liked this movie and want to know more about the novel, you might like to take a look at my review of it.
You can find it here: https://owlcation.com/humanities/Book-Review-Littl...