Greta Gerwig had quite a challenge in following up her critical & audience favorite "Lady Bird" released in 2017. I was pretty surprised that she decided on an adaption of Louisa May Alcott's classic 1868 novel.
Leave it to Gerwig to find the perfect balance between honoring the 150 year old material while spinning it into a more modern take on the book.
Saoirse Ronan (Mary Queen of Scots, Atonement) is Oscar worthy as Jo March, a young author having to publish stories anonymously as women battle to have their works seen. Alcott's self referential character was no mistake, having published the book in the mid 1800's against the norms of the day.
We meet the rest of the March sisters, romantic Meg (Emma Watson from the Harry Potter series), social climbing Amy (the terrific Florence Pugh from "Midsommar") and the youngest, Beth (Eliza Scalen) who seems to spend much of the story in the shadows but plays a key role.
Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird) nearly steals the film as wealthy young Teddy 'Laurie" Lawrence, who lives next door on a massive estate with his father (Chris Cooper).
Tracy Letts (Ford v Ferrari) is Jo's publisher, Laura Dern gives one of her best performances in years as the girls mother and Meryl Streep brings plenty of humor as the sisters very wealthy grandmother.
Gerwig manages to take this very formal story, inform the era with a more modern view without being preachy and create characters that you really care about.
Pugh has a moment in which she details the fact that women of the day had no right to vote or work and that the day they married, everything they owned became the property of their husband. It's a well written sequence that reminds you of the setting and what faces the March sisters as they choose their paths.
The family rivalry between the sisters is as powerful as any loud, confrontational drama, but much of the emotion takes place behind the words, perfectly acted by the terrific cast.
Ronan, Chalamat and Pugh are especially good portraying the complicated, long time relationships between Laurie, Jo and Amy.
The photography by newcomer Yorick Le Saux is stunning to look at, as are the period settings designed by Jess Gonchor (No Country For Old Men, True Grit).
I'm pretty confident that I would have had zero interest in seeing a "Little Women" update by a traditional filmmaker. Having seen what Gerwig did reinventing the coming of age comedy/drama with "Lady Bird", I looked forward to what she would create this time and she does not disappoint. The film's structure, bouncing back and forth in time, perfectly informs the choices the March sisters make at all the points in their lives.
LITTLE WOMEN is already a hit with audiences and earns a very enjoyable A.