Shamelessly, the first time I heard of Little Women was as a kid watching friends when Joey, famous for his lack of reading, exclaims “These little women… wow”. My mum, a big fan, begged me to read the book as a child and experience the joy of female sisterhood myself. Naturally, I refused to, and yet, I find myself dissecting books for my degree and a need to share my opinions through articles and the occasional (never-ending) Instagram story. Is it possible mums are… right? Gerwig’s rendition of Little Women displays this female valour and stubbornness in the most visceral and radiant light. Little Women is alive and burning to tell the story of female friendship, passion and love and boy, does it deliver.
At a time when females are dominating the screen, from Killing Eve to Star Wars to Fleabag (thanks Phoebe Waller-Bridge) Gerwig undeniably stands strong amongst them. Following her own brilliant award-winning indie, Ladybird, the director delivers a youthful rendition of the female experience. From the devilish delights the Little Women take in challenging each other to the touching support they ceaselessly share, Gerwig never once shy’s away from the wonderfully complicated dynamic siblings share; translating each character as charmingly talented and yet equally as flawed as each other. Little Women follows the life of 4 sisters, Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Amy (Florence Pugh), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Meg (Emma Watson) in the aftermath of the American Civil war. Alongside their ‘Marmie’ (Laura Dern), Aunt March (Meryl Streep) and their literary famous neighbour, Laurie (Timothée Chalamet).
Emma Watson plays the eldest sister Meg, whilst Eliza Scanlen plays the gentle and quiet Beth. Both embody their role delightfully and it’s hard to imagine anyone else taking their place. Watson plays Meg with a delicate determination, carrying the lines “just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.” Whilst Scanlen plays the angelic and musical Beth with such charm, entrancing us into her timid bravery. However, despite this talented pair, it is Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh and Timothée Chalamet that were unequivocally born for their roles.
Jo is famously known for her wild ambition and inexorable autonomy, a bookish girl dedicated to her art. Ronan's hands are covered in ink, perpetually desperate to write. Yet, she admits to being lonely and wanting more than just the love of her family. In a touching scene between Jo and Marmie, she claims she “cares more to be loved” than to love someone else. Ronan plays this heart-breaking role with such sensitive and sincere talent that a discord of sniffles filled the cinema every-time she delivered a monologue.
One of the standout scenes of the film is Ronan’s riveting delivery of the distressed lines “women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as beauty, and I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it!.” Ronan performs the scene with agitated energy, tired of Jo’s society, and yet she remains quietly composed in her sadness, sculpting an empathetic and resilient female lead.
Those lines, however, aren’t, in fact, taken from Alcott’s Little Women, but rather one of her later novels Rose in Bloom. Gerwig manifested herself within the story of Jo and subsequently within her author Alcott with such dedication, crafting a beautiful rendition of Jo, breathing new life and words into a timeless character.
Every scene Amy (Pugh) inhabits is bubbly, warm and yet heart-breaking, she encapsulates the youngest child, just wanting to be noticed and desperate to be loved. We can feel her pain despite her huge smile and gleaming eyes. Gerwig lovingly humanises a character that has been so harshly villainised over the years. Amy proclaims “I want to be great or nothing” this stubbornness and ambition are at the heart of Little Women. They don’t settle. Pugh plays Amy in such a charmingly childlike tone, that we understand that she can’t help but be anything other than her flighty, brutally candid self - there is so much beauty in her vulnerability. One particularly humorous moment follows a close up on Amy as Laurie is first introduced to the Little Women and Pugh beams wide-eyed “I’m Amy” with the most irresistible excitement to her. I think we’re all a little Amy.
Gerwig crafts a beautiful balance between Amy’s child self and her protracted, silent heartbreak that she’s endured her whole life seeing Laurie in love with her own sister. This comes to a height when Laurie begins to fall for her instead and Amy can’t handle the pain “not when I've spent my entire life loving you”. It’s touching to see Gerwig highlight a complicated character who hasn’t been given the time over the years and instead give Amy a voice for a new generation of girls to relate to.
As for Chalamet, he takes on the ultimate literary heartthrob, Laurie, a staple for girls to swoon after over the years. The actor plays the role with a broody yet boyish charm, a character so endearing that it’s impossible not to feel his heartbreak at that proposal scene. The actor fills each frame he's in, whether it be lounging on chairs or dancing secretly with Jo, he cannot simply exist but must live, and make everyone aware of this. He’s both serious and playful, cheeky and despairing; a character shaped so wholly by Gerwig. On a rare occasion, we see Laurie become the onlooker, it is upon his first visit to the Little Women household. He stands by the doorframe, observing the choreographed cacophony of chaos that the sisters so easily inhabit. The girls all talk over other, every line overtaking the next, each character dancing around the frame with such life and radiance that it’s easy to fall into the lustful gaze Chalamet portrays as he stares on at the girls; an intoxicating sense of warmth and admiration beam through the actor, and thus through us.
From starring in Frances Ha as the buoyant boisterous lead to crafting her own Little Women, Gerwig never fails to deliver the most charmingly heart-breaking films filled with warmth, tenderness and most importantly, life. Little Women is a funny, energetic and poignant film; a Christmas gift to women bursting to live, begging us to ‘own your story' and take a piece of each characters tirelessly tenacious spirit.
Little Women hits UK cinemas on Boxing Day.
Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor