Why we need Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’

Late in the story of Louisa May Alcott’s March sisters, first published in 1868, old friends Theodore Laurence and Josephine March are reunited after being separated by years and continents.

“‘How good it sounds to hear you call me Teddy,’” Alcott writes. “‘No one ever calls me that but you,’” and Laurie sat down with an air of great contentment.”

Greta Gerwig’s adaptation, in theaters Christmas Day, holds a similar feeling of embracing your oldest and dearest friend from whom you’ve been separated for a while. An air of great contentment.

Cynics have asked why we need another adaptation. The story of the March sisters has been re-imagined dozens of times on film, television and the stage. (Some people will reply by saying that question is rarely asked about male-driven remakes.) But I believe the real reason this story “stands the test of time,” as so many entertainment reporters will put it, is this: Little Women has always proven that no story is too small.

There is proof in Alcott’s century-old text that her characters, particularly writer Jo March, thought their stories were boring or unimportant. In popular culture today, we see “tough” depictions of women conquering their larger-than-life circumstances, villains and monsters and bias. We’re told now that women have to change the world to be worth recognizing. Alcott and Gerwig remind us that maybe they just have to change their own world, in their own way. 

In Gerwig’s warm, comforting, tightly-written adaptation, no detail is too small. A scarf rolled into a blanket. An expensive bolt of fabric. A burned book. An out-of-tune piano. An old sketch from a day at the beach. It’s all of these small moments that make such up such a wonderful narrative that has filled people’s hearts for generations. The care taken with each turn of events makes the March home feel as lived-in as it does on the page – and the sisters’ later absence from it, deeply felt.

Because of this, the incredible cast just feels like an added gift. Laura Dern, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlon and Meryl Streep are a joy to watch. Timothée Chalamet has proven his wide range of talent from Miss Stevens to Lady Bird and Beautiful Boy. But as our FF2 Media review explains, Laurie Laurence seems made for him. His solid affability and reassuring warmth reverberate through the entire group of stunning actors – remembering that in the novel Laurie belongs to the entire family, in addition to his special bond with Jo. Chalamet has said that seeing The Dark Knight is what made him want to pursue acting seriously. He has already been directed by Christopher Nolan (Interstellar), worked with Christian Bale (Hostiles) and admirably filled Bale’s shoes as the lovable Laurie. Not bad for a 23-year-old, and yet another reason Gerwig’s take feels fresh and special.

Speaking of youthful accomplishment, Ronan will undoubtedly add to her accolades this year. The three-time Oscar nominee – at only 25 – simply is Jo. She can be what kids picture when they read this book for the first time, the way Katharine Hepburn was in 1933, and Winona Ryder was for us. She embodies everything about this protagonist other adaptations couldn’t quite grasp. Once again, it is those small details that are tough to transfer from page to screen: her love for Beth, her need to put down the pen when life gets hard, and pick it back up again because life is hard.

I saw this remarkable movie with my sister, fittingly. She said to me afterwards, “I’m glad Greta did this. No one else could.” Robin Swicord and Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version was the perfect introduction to the March sisters when we were children. Gerwig’s is just as perfect, for adulthood. The juxtaposition between Jo’s painful present and the warm glow of her past will resonate with anyone who felt themselves brimming with potential, safe in the arms of their loved ones, content if occasionally angry – only to grow older and have to search for that contentment elsewhere, to shift your definition of happiness and what you believe life should be. To wake up from the nightmares we all have to encounter every once in a while and see our oldest friend standing over us. 

That’s not to say Jo stops dreaming. For 151 years, she hasn’t stopped. Thank God she hasn’t stopped.

© Georgiana E. Presecky (12/7/2019) FF2 Media

Photos Courtesy of Sony Pictures

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