The Beauty and Pain of Growing Up – A Review of Little Women (2019)

When first announced, Little Women (2019) was something I wondered if we even needed. Written by Louisa May Alcott in 1868, the story of four sisters living in Massachusetts and trying to make their way in the world struck a chord with people of the past as well as today. Already a cultural phenomenon and American classic, the story has been told and retold through countless adaptations.


The latest film adaptation was in 1994 and I personally was a huge fan of it. It starred Winona Ryder who, in my mind, played the role of Jo March perfectly. 1994 wasn’t all that long ago, and the film is available on Netflix. It’s still in the public conscience. I wondered if we needed this new adaptation. After watching Greta Gerwig’s take on Little Women, it’s safe to say that I’m no longer wondering.


This version of Little Women feels profoundly modern, even though the story hasn’t really changed at all. As a woman, daughter, student, and aspiring writer, I already had such a deep connection to the story. But Gerwig’s adaptation has expanded and deepened this already rich and wonderful tale.


Instead of telling the life of the March sisters chronologically, it takes a different approach. Gerwig tells it out of order, but lines up the lives of these sisters and finds parallels within them. By doing this, Gerwig condenses the themes of the story, making them feel even more profound and powerful. Because you see scenes of the sisters’ lives in their nostalgic childhood, versus the pain they go through in growing up, it makes their struggles feel that much more potent. And with themes like family, growing up, loneliness, and ambition, every scene in the film is electric.


Little Women is also a masterclass in character writing. Even though these characters were originally written by Alcott, Gerwig manages to bring newfound perspective to these characters. By respecting and giving dignity to the lives of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, each in the wildly different ways they end up living, we as the audience are able to connect so much more to each of them. Amy has always been the one that everyone loves to hate on. Because the book and other adaptations have stuck so closely with Jo, we often end up siding with Jo when she and Amy butt heads. But Gerwig doesn’t treat Amy, or any of the other characters for that matter, in this way. She spends time with each of the sisters, helping us to understand the world they live in and the options they have. It brings newfound depth to a classic story, and it makes a world of a difference.


I think what makes Little Women so different is that it’s so deeply personal, as well as  aspirational. It makes you want to go out and make something of yourself. It tells us to take on the world by its horns, as well as to hold dearly to the people we love. For those chasing dreams and fighting to grow up, this is the movie for you. Do yourself a favour and go see it.

Movie Trailer (Sony Pictures Entertainment):

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