Monday, June 17, 2024

Review: “Little Women” Soars in Retelling Despite Confusing Screenplay, Saoirse Ronan Heads All Star Cast


While I was prepping this review, I was reading some early pieces on Greta Gerwig’s remake “Little Women.” I got the feeling there was going to be trouble. After the success of “Ladybird,” Gerwig might be set up for a fall. No one wants to think she could have pulled off an all-star retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s famous  and beloved book, and while she was pregnant, no less.

But the truth is “Little Women” soars, and Gerwig is the real deal. “Little Women” is lovely, it’s like a big dessert. Watching it is a total pleasure, although some may be confused by the time jumping screenplay. If you don’t know the story you might be a little lost. But even a casual moviegoer will overcome this disability.

“Little Women” was the American answer to Jane Austen, much later in the 1800s. Alcott clearly loved Austen. She named a character in her book Mr. Dashwood after the Dashwood family in “Sense and Sensibility.” It was a nice touch.

But where Austen’s feel a little older, Alcott’s are younger. Her publisher wanted a book for young adult girls. And so we have the March sisters, their mother, their aunt, and their MIA father who’s off on military duty. The leader of this pack is Jo, who aspires to be a writer and becomes one. Jo is played by two time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan, 25 years old, and certainly a nominee this year if not winner. Even with a remarkable cast– the pungent Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Timothee Chalamet, Eliza Scanlen, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern– Ronan not holds her own but carries the movie. She’s remarkable.

Wait- did you say Meryl Streep? Yes, she’s their cranky aunt March. It’s a small, fun part, no Oscar nomination because it’s just not big enough, but Streep is having the time of her life and we love seeing her there. Laura Dern is the March mother, and if she weren’t already in the race from “Marriage Story” she would be here. Florence Pugh is the breakout star as the annoying Amy whom we come to love. Chalamet is terrific as the bumbling Laurie, Hugh Grant in an Austen film.

Gerwig is a force to be reckoned with. She cannot be denied now. “Ladybird” was not a fluke. She’s also such a nice person in real life. A year ago I ran into her and she told me was on her to show Steep the screenplay and was worried. I asked her recently how it went. She laughed and said, “Oh I remember that.” She rolled her eyes. “It wasn’t easy,” she said. Really? Because it turned out A-OK.

PS Oscar wise, we have two more films to extoll soon: “Bombshell” and “Just Mercy.”  “Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood” is playing now.  It’s a very good season.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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