December 31, 2019 – Lurching backwards and forwards in time over and over, this eighth remake of the movie based on a novel written more than 150 years ago has been thoroughly updated. This brand of storytelling would have sent audiences spinning had it come out 50 years ago. It is still a bit much, but at least audiences are more used to this kind of time-hopping storytelling now.
Gretta Gerwig, once the queen of low-budget, arty indie films like “Frances Ha” has gone mainstream after the success of her 2017 indie film, “Lady Bird.” This update of “Little Women,” based on the 1868-1869 books by Louisa May Alcott, is a big budget, lush, studio production with a great soundtrack and first-rate production values. Gerwig wrote the screenplay and directed this film. It is plenty good enough to win a Best Picture Academy Award next year.
This story comes across as an American version of a Jane Austen story, with young girls being urged to “marry well” in order to support their families, and one headstrong woman, Jo March (played by Saoirse Ronan of “Lady Bird”) determined to make her own way in the world, and not to be dependent on a man to support her.
Jo is the writer (representing Louisa May Alcott herself, particularly in this film). Her three beautiful and talented sisters are Meg (played by Emma Watson) an aspiring actress, Amy (Florence Pugh of “Midsommar”) is an artist, while Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is a talented pianist. Their saintly mother, Marmee (played by Laura Dern of “Jurassic Park”) tries to steer these three spirited girls in the right direction. The father of the girls (played by Bob Odenkirk) is away at war during the civil war, and later comes down with pneumonia.
The narrative shifts back and forth a number of times during the movie from a time during the Civil War, to just after the civil war, and also shifts from Concord, Massachusetts, to New York City, where Jo works on her writing career after the war. The story also shifts back and forth between the four daughters and their love interests. One key male in this story is Theodore “Laurie” Laurence (played by Timothée Chalamet of “Call Me by Your Name”). He ends up romantically linked to two of the daughters.
Another couple of key players include the rich, sad, neighbor, Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper of “Breach”) the grandfather of Laurie, who is charmed by Beth and gives her a piano. The other is rich Aunt March (Meryl Streep of “The Post”) who lives in a mansion, and is visited by the March sisters, who read to her.
The four March sisters are active in the arts and like to put on plays written by Jo. Laurie also appears in the plays. They are a lively bunch, rollicking through the early parts of the movie, before the women start getting married and Beth is stricken with scarlet fever.
The story involves romances, illness and death, but thanks to a lot of time-hopping and fast cuts, it never gets bogged down in any one subplot. The story revolves around Jo and her decision to write a story based on the experiences of her family, which becomes “Little Women.” The debate between Jo and her publisher over how to end the book becomes a clever inside joke about “Hollywood Endings.” It is a funny reference, and I liked the ending, too.
This film is very cleverly written, directed, edited and acted. I can see why this film has already ended up on a lot of critics “best of 2019” lists. What's not to like? This film rates a B+.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.