by Hope Madden
Just when you think They’re making Little Women again? Greta Gerwig steps in and gives this beloved story a fresh, frustrated perspective.
Gerwig’s presentation tosses sentimentality to the wayside, thankfully. The vibrant retelling brims with empathy, energy and laughter as well as those prickly emotions that dwell within a family.
In fact, settling into those very petty realities of sisterhood is a conscious choice Gerwig makes with her retelling. Those who’ve always controlled what we see may see nothing of value in so mundane a story as that of four somewhat coddled, routinely bickering sisters on the precipice of adulthood, but who says those men are right?
Gerwig understands and illustrates the political, economic and often lonesome choices to be made, couching those in the equally honest tensions of disappointing your sisters when you choose.
Gerwig’s writing, respectfully confident, brings conflicts more sharply to the surface in clear-eyed ways that reflect the characters’ bristling against unfair constraints and expectations.
Self-discovery and camaraderie still drive the piece, but Jo’s fiery independence has more meaning, Marmie’s self-sacrifice contains welcome bitterness, Aunt March’s disappointment feels more seeped in wisdom, and spoiled Amy is an outright revelation.
Saoirse Ronan, Gerwig’s avatar in the brilliant Lady Bird, is impeccable as ever. It’s her sometimes frenetic, sometimes quiet performance that delivers Louisa May Alcott’s own sense of lonesome independence.
Ronan’s flanked by superb supporting work including that of Timothee Chalamet, Tracy Letts and Meryl Streep (naturally). But it’s Florence Pugh, having a banner year with Fighting with my Family and Midsommar in her rear view, who entirely reimagines bratty Amy, turning her character into the sister we can best understand.
In all, this remarkable filmmaker and her enviable cast make this retelling maybe the most necessary version yet.