I guess I should preface this review by saying that I’ve never read or seen any other adaptation of Little Women before watching this film, and so I basically had no expectations going in. All I knew was that the cast was an atomic bomb’s worth of talent and that I might not be able to fully connect with the overall message of the movie compared to members of the opposite gender. What I was not expecting was one of the most inspiring and creativity-boosting movies I’ve seen in an extremely long time. It’s strange to think that not much has changed since the end of the Civil War in terms of the way America views creative individuals, and many of the hardships the women in this film undergo still ring true to this very day. While it’s true that I might not have been able to fully appreciate the extent of the protagonists’ struggles throughout the film simply due to the fact that I’m not a woman, it was certainly an enlightening experience to say the least.
Saoirse Ronan kills it as the lead role of Jo March, a struggling writer who’s only real goal in life is prove that her writing is actually worth something to the rest of the world while still satisfying her own internal desire for self-worth. She and her three sisters, Amy, Meg, and Beth, all represent different facets of the creative world, with Amy wishing to be a great painter, Meg dreaming of becoming a famous actress, and Beth quietly continuing to practice her piano skills. With Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep all under the direction of Greta Gerwig, I think it’s pretty much impossible to understate the sheer amount of talent going into this movie. Every single character is so well-defined and individual, and there’s not a single bad performance in the entire film.
This is without mentioning that the script is great, and the dialogue is supremely satisfying in both the way it is written and the way it is delivered. Jo March is such a relatable character for anyone who has ever attempted writing as a career path, and the constant struggle to feel creatively appreciated or know if what you’re writing is actually any good is something I think everyone has struggled with at least once. Combined with her publisher’s constant demands for edits that detract from the overall quality of the writing in an attempt to appeal to a wider (primarily male) audience, and you can really start to appreciate the frustration of her character.
Ownership also plays a huge role in the story, with many of the women feeling as though they’ve had no control over their own lives. Jo spends most of her time hating the fact that she was born a woman, and Amy consistently feels like she’s been playing second fiddle to Jo in every aspect of her own life. Meg wants to be an actress but gives it up after getting married, and Beth becomes very ill at a young age and never has a chance to prove herself as musician. Despite their best efforts, it seems as though society is constantly undercutting whatever their dreams might be with the harsh reality that if she doesn’t die first, once a woman is married, she loses whoever she was before and adopts the title of “that guy’s wife.” And while marriage might be enough to make some characters happy, Jo March is constantly struggling with the desire to be loved combined with the desire to remain independent. Even when confronted with what seems like a perfect companion in her best friend Laurie, she turns him down out of fear that their friendship would die through marriage and they would grow to despise each other.
After all, it’s repeated many times throughout the movie that “marriage is an economic proposition” rather than something based on love. And while most of the characters eventually find some level of happiness through marriage, Jo’s need for independence simply doesn’t fit into the traditional structure society has created for her. Her breakdown near the middle of the film about how lonely she feels despite having many opportunities to amend those feelings was honestly heartbreaking, and it made me think a lot about how I’ve been living my own life up to this point as well. Love is a confusing thing, and while many people feel like they want to be loved, they don’t think of all the fine print and asterisks that come along with fully committing yourself to another person. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie portray that internal conflict between self-ownership and exposing yourself to the vulnerability of loving someone quite like Little Women has, and I can’t praise Saoirse Ronan enough for her performance in that regard.
I suppose the only criticisms I have are that Meg’s romance seemed fairly skimmed over, and the movie as a whole started to drag things out near the end. I honestly don’t even remember how or why Meg fell in love with the tutor character, as he seemed like a much older and dorkier man compared to the free-spirited March sisters. Laurie was definitely considered the “hot one” out of all the guys in town and even though he was supposed to be socially awkward and not adhere to typical 19th century male standards, his tutor and Meg’s eventual husband always seemed like a far more awkward and less socially capable person than Laurie. It just sort of felt as though their romance was skipped over entirely and they were only together out of necessity, which I could definitely understand if there wasn’t also a scene in which Meg explained how deeply in love she was with him and how she was willing to give up her prospects of being an actress just to be with him instead.
Pacing near the end of the movie also seemed to slow to a crawl, as the film dragged out the end of Jo March’s storyline with her European “lover,” having him awkwardly visit the house of the girls post-funeral and hang around for a while, not doing much. The two of them didn’t really seem like they had much of a connection other than him being a hot dude and also being interested in writing, though I guess that makes sense since she technically doesn’t marry him at the end of the movie, it’s only the character in her book marrying him to appease her editor. Even if that subplot was left intentionally weak to show how forced the marriage at the end would be, it still wasn’t all that fun to watch as it slowly unfolded in the background of Jo March writing her book (you know, the most important and interesting part of the story).
All things considered though, Little Women is an outstanding movie and a must-watch for anyone with a single creative bone in their body. The desire to make something of yourself outside of society’s typical expectations and prove yourself worthy of the title “artist/author/whatever” is an absolutely monstrous task, especially in a nation that values the almighty dollar above all else. I think creative people are often told that they’re either wasting their time or that they’ll never be good enough to “make a living off of it,” ignoring the fact that many people simply create things because it satisfies their own desires and gives them a feeling of self-worth as human beings. Little Women is a supremely inspiring movie and is definitely going in my catalogue of creative pick-me-ups for future screenings.
8/10 – Great