Louisa May Alcott’s iconic novel, Little Women, is a book that is ultimately hard to sum up in one sentence. Overall the novel follows a group of four sisters who face the various obstacles of life – falling in love, war, life and even death. It is a novel that sees the world through the eyes of young girls, slowly blooming into the little women they are destined to become. And being such a loved work of American literature, the book has seen several film adaptations over the centuries, each with their strengths and weaknesses, but they all shared one common thing – they told the story from beginning to end.
However, with the most recent adaptation of the book, Ladybird director Greta Gerwig, chooses to tell the story in a non-linear manner, taking the well-known narrative and displacing it in a way that reinvents the story as something new, faithful and beautifully modern. Having spent many years in front of the camera, particularly in independent coming-of-age stories, Gerwig obviously had a vision for this movie and it shows through the writing, direction and overall stunning cinematography that make this film such a joy to behold.
Beginning in the 1868, we first see our ‘little women’ as they are during the latter end of their stories’, some are married, some have matured and some are battling with grief and disease. The colour palette is cold and grey and the wintery season can almost be felt through the screen. Then we blend into the past and see a world bathed in the innocence of childhood, where everything is bright, warm and cosy. The distinction made between the two time periods truly sets the theme of the story, of adolescence and maturity and how the two must eventually blend. It’s a beautiful way of telling the story and Gerwig relishes in the themes and topics she is discussing through her art.
Beyond Gerwig’s reinvention of the story as a non-linear narrative, she can also be credited with bringing together a brilliant cast of performers to help tell the tale. This may be one of the most amazing casts we have seen in a movie in quite a while, with each actor shining in their roles, from the main four sisters, to the smallest of supporting roles. Particular standouts have to include Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh, who truly fall into the roles of Jo and Amy, bringing everything that fans of the novel will want from the two beloved characters. Ronan portrays Jo with all the spirit and ferocity of her literary inspiration, while Pugh beautifully portrays both iterations of Amy, from petulant child to flourishing woman. Both actors relish in their roles and I am happy to see that their hard work has paid off with an Oscar nomination each! Beyond these two other standouts include Timothee Chalamet who gives a strong emotional performance as Laurie and of course Meryl Streep, who once again proves why she is one of the most celebrated actors working in Hollywood today. And yet the cast as a whole still beautifully portrays the story being told, without there being one miscasting among them.
Th film is also visually stunning, recalling cinematic classics such as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, with the film having an overall timeless quality to it. The distinctions made between the past and present day help the audience to follow the disjointed story-telling and the costumes and sets hold a cosy quality that truly capture the cuteness of the story and it’s now iconic prose. Gerwig’s decision to also tell the story in a non-linear way allows for certain controversies in the book to be rectified. Now the question of who Laurie should have married is thrown out of the window, with us seeing his budding romance with Amy even before we see his first interaction with Jo. It also opens the door for Gerwig to draw surprising parallels between the characters’ past and their present, which allows the director to truly flex her creative muscles.
Overall the film is quaint, beautiful and truly heart-felt, breathing new life into a timeless story that will most likely see other adaptations in the future. But for now I believe that this one will ring the most true with modern generations, and be a wonderful and inspiring story for this age’s little women.