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Photo: ‘Little Women’
It’s been nearly three years since the release of 2019’s ‘Little Women,’ based on the classic novel of the same name, and directed and adapted by Greta Gerwig (who is also known for her work ‘Ladybird’ and the upcoming ‘Barbie’ movie). This was far from the first adaptation of the story, as it has been manufactured for the screen time and time again. Most notably, we have the 1994 version, directed by Gillian Armstrong, and starring Winona Ryder as Jo March. Looking further back, we also have the 1933 version, directed by George Cukor, and starring Katharine Hepburn as Jo March. The most recent 2019 depiction makes a name for itself through Gerwig’s attentive writing, its two-timeline structure, and its brilliant cast. This ‘Little Women’ has brought the story to a modern audience and has skyrocketed in popularity amongst young girls, as they have been able to find a place in the world for themselves from the influence of this work.
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The question of: what kind of girl are you? A Jo, Meg, Beth, or Amy? Has lent itself to giving girls four heartfelt characters to attach themselves to and see themselves in. Scrolling through TikTok and other social media, you can see different interactions highlighting these perceptions, and viewers really taking their time digesting the dialogue between the characters and what it is trying to convey. In short, this adaptation has become its own cultural phenomenon.
The March Sisters
The biggest fundamental vein of the novel “Little Women” is the little women in question – the March sisters. The cast for this take was led by Saoirse Ronan as the iconic Jo March, with Florence Pugh taking on the youngest sister, Amy March. Both women received Oscar nominations for their performances, and they have always shone brightly on the screen. Emma Watson portrays the oldest, Meg March, a role that is able to suit her without feeling like another type-casted version of Hermione. And then we have sweet Beth, played by Eliza Scanlen, a young actress on the up and up. Supporting the girls is Laura Dern as their mother, Meryl Streep as Aunt March, and Timothée Chalamet as Laurie. It’s clearly a well-rounded cast giving their all. This adaptation does not have to be your favorite casting of all the adaptations out there, everyone has their own opinions. However, you can’t deny the brilliance behind these performances and the writing which inspired them. The sisters feel like sisters, and despite the story being set in the nineteenth century, they evoke so much relatability and empathy through their trials and tribulations. Many writers struggle to get you to feel for one character, let alone four. The puzzle pieces just fit together to create this masterpiece.
Additionally, Gerwig implemented various differences from previous adaptations to further round out the story and its inspiration from the original novel. One of the biggest and most well-received changes was the character of Amy March. In older depictions, she could be perceived as spoiled and even be labeled as the worst sister (which is a bogus accusation, there is no “worst sister.” They’re all great). She’s still the little sister who gets jealous and has her mischievous moments, but we get to watch her grow and learn the way the world works. We get a beautiful monologue of Amy’s perspective of marriage, a perspective that has been shaped by the time, her place as a woman, and her family’s need for stability, along with other line delivery from Florence Pugh that truly grounds the character.
Furthermore, the main role of Jo is fleshed out by Gerwig highlighting the difference between Jo as a character and Jo as the manifestation of author Louisa May Alcott’s life and journey as a writer. That difference becomes so vital at the end as it distinguishes the author from the character – something other adaptations hadn’t tapped into. Jo also gets her own new monologue about her loneliness and her disliking of marriage and love being seen as “all a woman is fit for.” This monologue, accompanied by Saorise Ronan’s powerful performance and Laura Dern’s understanding stance as her mother gives so much to Jo as a character in just a short two minutes, and has resonated with many all around.
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The Writing of Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig’s writing is another star in this film. She more than understands the complicated family dynamics, writing dialogue with purposeful interruptions between the sisters and other characters because that’s how humans speak, we interrupt one another. She also implements a non-linear structure, jumping back and forth from the timeline of the girls’ childhood to the timeline of their adulthood. This jumping around may not have been able to happen if there hadn’t been previous adaptations or if the book hadn’t been so loved, making everyone familiar with the base of the girls’ story. So, it is refreshing, not jarring, when the structure of the story shifts. The timelines are presented with different color schemes and plenty of parallels between the two which make the happy moments more joyful, and the sorrowful moments more gut-wrenching.
Gerwig is bringing a masterful female perspective to the world of filmmaking. Though she was unfairly snubbed at the Oscars, not receiving a Best Director nomination for this work, her directing style still captivates an audience, and her introspective approach to each of these characters demonstrates just how talented and hardworking she is. I, for one, will be sure to watch all her future projects.
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Little Women Inspiring Little Women
This cultural phenomenon is largely in the circle of young girls. The film speaks to that audience, and others outside of those margins may not understand or even be aware of the “revolution” of this film. It’s the care put into every word. It’s the identity girls can find when they look at these sisters and all their hardships. Girls in film have been misrepresented for a while, and even as viewers, many frown upon media targeted at young girls for seeming too “girly,” “irrelevant,” or “unserious.” As we enter into the modern age, we have been reaching better representations and more vocalizations on how female characters should be depicted.
‘Little Women’ understands all angles of female dreams. For example, Meg March is the sister who goes on to become a wife and mother, marrying for love, while still having an inkling for the finer things in life. On her wedding day, she expresses how “just because my dreams are different than yours doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.” These simple words illustrate so much. Just because Meg is on a different, a more domestic, path doesn’t mean she should be seen as “less.” There is so much more this film has granted for its viewers, but the overall takeaway is how it has been able to inspire little women all around. So, thank you, Greta Gerwig, and thank you ‘Little Women.’ You have given the world a lot to love.
By Rachel Beltowski
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Rachel Beltowski is a screenwriter and film critic, with a passion for character-driven stories and thought-provoking themes. From adventure to horror, Rachel enjoys stories which take the audience on an emotional rollercoaster and allow for personal expression that would otherwise go silent. Rachel was drawn to The Hollywood Insider’s dedication to individual perspectives and positive world impacts. The Hollywood Insider has provided a foundation for Rachel to share her insights and leap into the center of the entertainment industry. Rachel hopes to bring a fresh voice into the world of film and television, and share her love of stories with others.