When I was in elementary school, we were required to check out a book from the library every week. I was resigned to Judy Blume fiction and Junie B. Jones for years until I decided to venture into the world of classics. When I discovered Louisa May Alcott, I routinely checked out Little Women for months. I would read it cover to cover, and then decide to do it again. I was enamored by this Civil War era sisterhood.
I was especially attached to Jo March. As a writer, my draw to the heroine has been a constant influence towards my work and ambition. When I heard that one of my favorite directors, Greta Gerwig, was creating a film adaptation of the 1868 novel, I was ecstatic.
There was a lot of conversation about whether or not another film version was necessary. After all, Little Women has graced our screens multiple times in the form of movies and television.
However, until I saw the 2019 release with my own eyes, I didn’t understand how necessary a retelling truly was.
From early on, I knew this movie was going to be exceptional. As Jo March left a publisher’s office, sprinting through crowds of people in Concord with a wild grin, I realized why this timeless story was born to be married with Gerwig’s magic.
When I think of Gerwig, I think of Frances Ha dancing through the streets of New York, or Lady Bird throwing herself out of a moving vehicle. All of her movies feature protagonists with this chaotic and bold energy. The same sensitivity and strong spirit is alive in every character, not only Jo.
It cannot go unsaid that Gerwig’s casting couldn’t have been better.
I always finish the book feeling heart-wrenched by Jo’s arch, which Saoirse Ronan beautifully executed.
However, this movie had me leaving the theatre with a new understanding of all the characters, especially Meg and Amy.
Emma Watson and Florence Pugh, who played Meg and Amy respectively, gave these March girls a new dynamism and relatability.
Perhaps it’s because I’m older now, but I believe Gerwig envisioned these women bringing a new perspective to the table, which they surely did.
One of the wonderful aspects about Alcott’s Little Women is the overwhelming amount of high and low points. Each sister is so thoughtfully developed.
Through both their individual and shared trials, we see them grow and mature over many years. Many of the previous adaptations struggled to convey this in a two-hour time slot.
Gerwig, however, instead of following a chronological timeline, ebbs and flows between the past and future. I would say that the film’s huge success in emotional storytelling can be accredited to this creative liberty.
Choosing to remake a classic in another medium is no easy feat. Condensing this massive epic into a short time frame requires choices to be made, and Gerwig made hard decisions in all the right places.
Gerwig held a lot of the story’s features sacred. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Gerwig explained that she shot the entire movie in Massachusetts because, “To shoot in Concord, in Massachusetts, in this area, in this environment, was really essential in how I wanted to build this movie. It’s significant. The place matters as much as anything.”
However, Gerwig thought some aspects deserved a change, and these adjustments were controversial to say the least.
In the film, there is a significance placed on the production of Jo’s book, rather than a romantic finale between her and Frederick.
The movie doesn’t explicitly show whether Jo chooses to marry. While we do get an almost comically intense kiss in the rain, Gerwig doesn’t disclose whether this was a scene she begrudgingly entered into her novel as a means to get published or in fact reality.
In the script, the scene is concluded with a note from Gerwig that reads, “THE PRESENT IS NOW THE PAST. OR MAYBE FICTION.”
Although this does stray from the book’s true ending, many, including myself, believe that Louisa May Alcott would have wanted this for Jo March, if circumstances had allowed.
Unfortunately, The Academy isn’t recognizing Gerwig for her directing accomplishments at The Oscars this year. The complete lack of female nominations is not going unnoticed.
Many news outlets have attempted to get Geriwg’s thoughts on the matter. She has gracefully handled these obstacles, and although she may not receive an Oscar, the impact of her film is already immeasurable.
In TIME Magazine, Stephanie Zacharek wrote, “There’s something to be said for making a vital, daring movie that flies under the radar of the squares who give out the prizes.”
“When that movie is based on a 150-year-old book about a family of women? Now that’s a truly radical act.”
A truly radical act, indeed. Greta Gerwig, along with her cast, has created a timeless movie that Louisa May Alcott would surely be proud of.