You cannot possibly go wrong with a classic, but when there is a multiverse of adaptations, can you still make your version memorable by reiterating the same story? This is the challenge Greta Gerwig takes on and triumphs over with Little Women. Having consumed both literature and cinema voraciously, the marriage between the two in itself was a delight for me.
The movie plays mostly in flashbacks showing a time lapse of seven years and introduces us to four fabulously flawed women with gleaming aspirations during the aftermath of the American civil war. The March sisters Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth possess an innate finesse for the art forms. Jo is an aspiring writer, Amy wants to be known as the finest painter of Paris, Meg wants to act and Beth plays the piano. They along with their mother, Marmee are toiling hard to make both ends meet amid poverty and crisis. The feminist coming of age novels of the 19th century- Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibilities and Little Women all portray the female characters to be assertive and owning their individuality in an era where these things were looked at with a condescending gaze.
Although in the film, the non-conformity to gender roles makes Jo (played by Saoirse Ronan) a strong character, she cannot afford to always be radical, and that makes her like one of us. Amy (played by Florence Pugh) , who feels obscure and overshadowed in the presence of Jo, gets the most character development in the story, growing from a notorious immature kid into a wise lady who manages internal conflict with grace. Meg (played by Emma Watson), who wants to get married early on and is unapologetic of being materialistic, says to Jo in one of the scenes "Just because my dreams are different from yours, doesn't mean that they are unimportant". Beth (played by Eliza Scanlon) is the kindest of them all. What binds the four of them is the unabashed love and care they hold for each other.
The performances in all their glory are earnest and impeccable, but for me the hero of the film is behind the camera. The splendid set design, the costumes, the soirees, the ball dances, the pompous gowns and lavish Christmas feasts are all a visual treat of the 19th century, captured perfectly in the film by cinematographer Yorick Le Saux.
The romances in the movie are not hurried and are intricately woven, keeping intact the individuality of all the characters. The build-up is slow and may come across as sluggish to some, but works perfectly fine when fit into the larger piece. The dichotomy of the timing of love between Jo and Laurie as they are young and uncertain took me through an emotional roller coaster. We get a peep into Laurie's life but never too much.The romantic tension between the professor and Jo is what I was rooting for to get accomplished till the end.
Meryl Streep as the preposterous Aunt March is hilarious and deserves a movie of her own. What I wished to see more of were the struggles of Jo being a writer, the creative block one faces and the feeling of being stagnant. It would have added more nuance to her occupational journey. While everything falls in place, what may not work for some is the convoluted time-lapse. But have patience, for when the pieces fit, the puzzle is a beautiful, light-hearted saga with a lingering sense of sadness.
Little Women is a story of hope, a hope for a better life, a hope for a better bond, a hope to come out of a sordid scenario and a hope to taste success. The film has shown the longing for abundance and the quest for it with utmost sincerity. The girls go on to learn and later subtly teach to be generous, no matter what.