Can We Talk About Greta Gerwig's Little Women for a Sec?

I know I'm a little late to the Little-Women-2019-Trailer-Dropped Party, but I’m still thinking about it, and I know plenty of ladies around me are too. There’s something irrevocably refreshing and unapologetically feminine about the short three minutes we were given, so I figured we should take some time to go over it all. If you’re not familiar, writer/director Greta Gerwig of angsty Lady Bird fame is taking on Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1868 narrative of four sisters  -- proper Meg, tomboyish Jo, shy Beth and self-centered Amy -- coming of age in Civil War era Massachusetts. At times, the novel can warrant itself a tad too traditional (certain societal constraints of women emphasized in places), but every generation has managed to freshen bits and pieces up to fit the mold of the girls to which it belongs. Based on the trailer alone, I think it’s safe to say that Gerwig’s rendition is on the right track.

Every copy of Little Women that I have ever owned, which is embarrassingly many, has had the title emboldened in simplistic, elegant typeface. Already Gerwig kicks expectations to the door, the title card emblazoned with crooked, glaringly modern lettering. This is not a stuffy period piece. We’re made aware immediately that this is Gerwig’s way of making Alcott’s story as fresh to girls nowadays as it was to girls 150 years ago. The plucky, folksy soundtrack immediately floods the scene, recalling an air similar to Andrew Bird or Wild Child, but also something far more timeless, setting the stage for an old American tale with emotions underlying it that are anything but. In true Gerwig fashion, the coloring hits the audience like a truck, certain scenes blanketed under a gold light and others dotted with bright colors against a fair background, the girls’ distinct dresses standing out against the winter snow. It’s remarkable how much Gerwig has managed to revamp the period piece, a genre known for its sepia and its monotony. 

While youngest sister Amy March does have a variety of strong qualities (her social talent, her creative talent, her self-assuredness), her legacy is clouded by her petty disposition and her love interest, Theodore “Laurie” Laurence. Gerwig, with the clips given, seems to have added a number of extra layers to Amy. Her main motivation does not seem to be the social status that she sought after, throughout the book. Rather, she aims to truly excel and rise to fame through her art, as opposed to using it as a societal vehicle. “I want to be great, or nothing” states Amy, played by Florence Pugh, in the trailer, sketch in hand. Automatically, the parallels to her sister, aspiring writer Jo are extended beyond their fiery tempers. Regardless of their tendency to dissolve into spats, the two have one thing in common: their imaginative drive. For the first time, I’m genuinely excited to watch the nuances with which Amy is portrayed.

Now for arguably the hottest Little Women take, unchanged for the last 150 years: the relationship between Jo and Laurie. As a young girl, I drooled over Jo and Laurie, and the fact that they weren’t endgame was astounding to me. Moreover, Jo had to end up with some grungy old professor? Now, however, I understand it, probably due to the 2017 BBC adaptation of Little Women, with Stranger Things starlet Maya Hawke as Jo opposite Mark Stanley as Professor Bhaer. That, combined with a summer reread of the novel in full, made Laurie’s immaturity and Jo’s volatility a blatantly dangerous combination of personality traits that would have easily rendered them unhealthy as a pair. Their wit and their chemistry, however, is undeniable, and Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet’s portrayal of the pair demonstrate the dynamic perfectly. I loved that dance scene, the two bouncing on the porch of a neighborhood manor, their youth, vigor and, most importantly, gravitation displayed blatantly for all to see. Even my pro-Bhaer heart skipped a beat upon the ragged confession scene, the rolling green hills calling back to Pride and Prejudice (2005). At the same time, Chalamet’s acting style truly emphasizes both the roguishness and petulance that makes him and Jo so brutally wrong for each other. It’s a recipe for heartache.

The quality I love most about Gerwig’s Little Women, though, is its unapologetic femininity. There is a traditionally girlish humor with the addition of Meryl Streep and a streak of well-loved dramatic material from Laura Dern. The girls laugh and cry and admonish and create and love -- they have the multi-dimensionality to express their flaws and their victories. The reason that myself and so many others have watched and rewatched the trailer a dozen times over, I believe, is that it encompasses the spirit of timeless, raging girlhood that Louisa May Alcott wrote with, through a medium that directly touches the modern, raging girlhood of today.