Have you ever walked into a cinema, started to watch a movie, and then realised that you’re falling in love with it as it screens before you? And that you are in fact watching something so perfectly formed that it makes you thankful that movies were ever invented?
Wowing everyone with her directorial debut two years ago, all eyes were on what Greta Gerwig would do for her follow up to Lady Bird. And while making a new interpretation of a famed American novel that has been adapted numerous times before might seem like a strange choice for someone who gained critical acclaim and award nominations for something that felt as personal as Lady Bird, upon viewing Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that she was the perfect choice to bring a new version of the story of the March sisters to the screen.
Every piece of casting is perfect. The restructuring of Louisa May Alcott’s novel gives the storytelling and events within it a new potency; the lush cinematography is gorgeous; Alexandre Desplat’s score is sweeping and romantic; and everything is brought together beautifully by Gerwig in a way that is so alive to the possibilities of life, love and cinema that you cannot help but fall in love with it instantly.
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There have been numerous adaptations of the novel over the years, not just confined to film but also on television, with perhaps the highest-profile adaptation coming twenty-five years ago courtesy of Gillian Armstrong – a film that also boasted a high profile cast. A new version could signify, once again, the lack of imagination in Hollywood, but Gerwig makes her version of the story count, with an adaptation that she has written and directed that retains the gorgeous storytelling of Alcott’s novel, albeit this time restructured in a way that never loses the audience and which is differentiated magnificently by how each part of the story’s timeline is lit, and which filters the story and the lives of the March family and their tribulations through a modern prism.
This may be a period drama, but it is one that is unmistakably as much about being a woman today, with the plight of each one of the lead characters retaining a relevance that is not lost on Gerwig. Some of the dialogue and conversations might strike some as very modern for a period drama, but it brings Alcott’s novel up to date while retaining an identity as a gorgeously put together period drama.
Best of all, Gerwig once again shows herself to be a tremendous director and writer of coming of age stories. Whilst this is a story that has originated from famous source material, in the space of two films she has shown that she is not only a writer/director whose films are worthy of instant praise and should be seen as soon as possible on a big screen, but also a magnificent chronicler on being a girl coming of age.
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There is, of course, a mini Lady Bird reunion going on here, what with Saorise Ronan heading the cast (and how amazing would it be to see Gerwig and Ronan become the powerhouse female director and actress collaboration that has been severely lacking in Hollywood), playing a lead character in a complex relationship with a male character played by Timothee Chalamet, and a supporting role for Tracey Letts. But this is a remarkably different film in every way, indicating Gerwig as a chameleonic director who is able to craft a film that retains a lot of connective tissue but can still feel fresh and different to what has come before.
Lady Bird felt very real and emotionally raw; a very indie-flavoured teen movie, made to look as if it was filmed in 16mm, but Little Women is lush and beautiful, a gorgeously put together period drama that deserves to become a favourite with current audiences and future generations. Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen are perfect choices for each of the March siblings, playing each of their roles to perfection, with Pugh reminding us for the third time this year that we’re witnessing the emergence of a great actress, Ronan confirming herself, as if we need reminding, that she is at the forefront of acting talent on screen today, and the film as a whole leaving one awaiting the next Greta Gerwig film.
In an era when gender diversity is at the forefront of many discussions within the film industry, Little Women is a film that is driven and defined by female talent and is so punch the air brilliant you’ll simply want to watch it again as soon as the credits roll.