Little Women, Big Dreams

Saturday, January 18, 2020
*contains some spoilers*

In this 2019 adaptation of Little Women, based on the 19th century novel by Louisa May Alcott, Greta Gerwig - actress-turned-director/screenwriter - explores the themes of women, money, ambition and art; a story which feels just as relevant today as it did all those years ago.


During the opening scene, as the ambitious Jo, played by the delightful (and now Oscar-nominated) Saoirse Ronan, runs excitedly through the streets of New York after selling a story to the local newspaper, it reminds you of Gerwig herself when she played a similar role as a young, aspiring dancer in the 2012 film Frances Ha. However, this time Gerwig is no longer the young women chasing her dreams, but living them out instead and proving herself as a filmmaker to be reckoned with. This is her latest work since her Oscar-winning and highly-acclaimed Ladybird, and she is now undoubtedly paving the way for women in the film-industry today.

From the interview with Edith Bowman for her Soundtracking podcast, Gerwig mentions a particular line in the book which resonated with her, that line being ‘the world is hard on ambitious girls’. In the film she successfully portrays the four sisters - Jo, Amy, Beth and Meg - as best friends and equally strong individuals in pursuit of their dreams in a tough world. The film’s timeline shows them playing and growing together, and striving for achievement, wealth or creative careers. As the young women mature, Gerwig successfully highlights each of the sisters’ different and individual paths whilst confronting life’s hard knocks along the way. Jo desires to be a successful writer; Amy (played by Oscar-nominated Florence Pugh) a painter in Paris; Beth (Eliza Scanlen), quiet but present, is a talented pianist but suffering from illness and Meg (Emma Watson), desires a wealthier lifestyle, a husband and a family. 

Though their visions on life differ and sometimes conflict, the bond of sisterhood and family never loosens the deep-rooted ties these girls have - whether through betrayal or loss. All girls are equally as expressive and creative, sometimes putting on small plays for children, helping around the house as they live at home with their mother, played by Laura Dern, who keeps things together despite the long absence of their father. They always find ways to keep themselves entertained and despite their own poverty, give to others with even less than themselves. What Gerwig portays so well is four young girls, and sisters, who have been raised well but have simultaneously carved out their own strong characters and direction in life. Equally she shows the obstacles often faced by young women who want a career of their own, but don't want to be lonely, who want wealth but don't know how to get it from a position of poverty or without a man's help, who don't want to get married even when society says you should and who, as Amy once puts it 'wants to be great or nothing at all'. 
The everyday lives of the girls and their motives are slightly shaken with the encounter of their charming and handsome neighbour Laurie, played by Timothée Chalamet, who peaks the interest of a few of the girls, a bit like the arrival of the wounded soldier in Sofia Coppola's, The Beguiled. He provides a new amusement and discovery for the girls who are yet to have their first experience in love. At one point, Beth even admits to 'being afraid of boys'. Sparks fly and jealousy then leads to betrayal, and in one scene Amy heartbreakingly burn's Jo's story out of jealousy. Though love interests cause friction between the girls, the sisterhood remains more important than anything. Jo who is essentially the leader of the pack, doesn't want to let any man stop her from following her dreams, even if that man loves her, or even when another man doesn't approve of her writing. Though careers, dreams and love gets in the way, family definitely comes first, and everything else second.
Gerwig succeeds in directing and telling a beautiful story about strong, determined little women with big dreams, fuelled with happy and uplifting moments and with heartbreaking scenes too, mostly all of them which you will probably cry at. The performances are excellent and feel effortless and it is a movie that I will jump at the chance to see again and I highly recommend you go and see too, to support women film directors. I'm pretty disappointed that Gerwig received no director nominations, as I believe this is her best work yet and I'm so excited for her to create more films in the future. 
Disclaimer: I read no other reviews of this film before writing this and have never seen the other adaptations or read the original book (but I intend to asap!), so all words are my own - except quotes. The only research done was of course seeing the film and listening to the Gerwig/Bowman podcast on Soundtracking (listen here). Oh and big shout out to my mum the sub editor, lol.

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