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.