Since Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird was one of my 2017 favorites, I had high hopes for her version of Louisa Mae Alcott’s classic story, but she butchers it!
Rather than relate it chronologically, Gerwig shuffles, subverts and skips pivotal scenes, except for the opening Christmas letter from Father (Bob Odenkirk) and the wryly romantic conclusion. Her chaotic, non-linear interpretation and fast-paced, overlapping dialogue causes not only confusion but consternation for those who aren’t familiar with the plot and characters.
Set in aftermath of the Civil War, Alcott’s 1868 novel follows the ambitions and dreams of the four bickering, impoverished March sisters: writer Jo (Saoirse Ronan), pragmatic Meg (Emma Watson), artistic Amy (Florence Pugh) and piano-playing Beth (Eliza Scanlen).
‘Rounding out the family, there’s wise Marmee (Laura Dern) and caustic Aunt March (Meryl Streep).
Living next-door, Jo’s suitor Laurie (Timothy Chalamet) and his tutor Mr. Brooks (James Norton), plus there’s Jo’s outspoken admirer, Professor Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel), in New York.
For years, filmmakers have been drawn to the material because of Alcott’s insight into the psyche of young women coming-of-age, realizing the limitations and narrowness of how women’s lives and roles were defined back then. It’s about establishing your identity and making choices.
Writer/director Gerwig focuses on rebellious Jo, an impulsive tomboy who rejects the gender conventions of her time, refusing to wear frilly dresses, concentrating, instead, on her work, often clashing with her chauvinistic editor (Tracy Letts), while defiantly retaining her copyrights.
Filmed entirely in and around Concord, Massachusetts, Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum doubles as Paris with several shots at Alcott’s home, Orchard House, which has become a museum.
There have been several screen adaptations, including George Cukor’s (1933) with Katharine Hepburn, Gillian Armstrong’s (1994) with Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst and Claire Danes and – my favorite – Mervyn LeRoy’s (1949) with June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh and Margaret O’Brien.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Little Women is a scattered, feminist 5, trying for a festive Currier-and-Ives Christmas.