I’d been looking forward to seeing Little Women ever since the first trailer dropped- the Saorsie Ronan + Timothee Chalamet + Greta Gerwig dream-team I’ve been in love with since watching Ladybird was to reunite in a comedy-romance-drama period piece, and I couldn’t be happier. The promise of billowy shirt sleeves and cozy farmhouses only added to my glee, and I chose to ignore everything I've ever said about film remakes being lazy and uninspired.
To be fair, I really wouldn’t group Little Women alongside most remakes we’ve seen in the past few years- remakes of Little Women have always had something new to offer, and at this point, it seems appropriate to reiterate the story every few decades, even if only to introduce the story and its characters to a new generation. But okay, I can admit that I might still be slightly biased.
Even still, I don’t think anybody could argue that the film isn’t fantastic. The main thing that struck me was how modern Gerwig made the story seem- somehow, a story in which only one of the four sisters achieved their professional ambitions, with the others marrying rich or settling for the life of a housewife sent a far stronger feminist message than any of the ‘badass powerhouse lady’ action movies that come out every few years, and it’s because the characters are actually portrayed realistically for the time period in which they are set. Despite the ambitions that all the women have, there are obstacles that stand in their way that prevent them from achieving them, and eventually, in one way or another, they’re forced to either give them up completely or at the very least, sacrifice some intellectual integrity or creative liberties; this is a result of their lack of ability to clear their own path in a world designed for men. Their lack of ‘bad-assery’ in this context is exactly the thing that makes the story a feminist one- the struggles women faced at the time are acknolwedged and the injustices highlighted, but simultaneously the women are still presented as three-dimensional, realistic characters with unique hopes, desires, and personalities. This isn't the working of Gerwig, but rather the original 1868 plot itself- however, what Gerwig does control is the script, and many lines are clearly chosen specifically to resonate in a 2020 audience. Meg’s declaration to Jo that ‘Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.’ emphasises a woman’s right to choose her own path, and Jo’s declaration that ‘Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts.’ has a far more powerful impact than the token unromantic, ugly-till-her-glasses-come-off lead character in every teen rom-com (think 10 Things I Hate About You). The amount of time we spend with the girls, seeing them interact like real people do, laughing, creating, arguing and discussing, reinforces Jo’s words.
As well as sending a feminist message, Gerwig also tells a story of growth and sacrifice. Scenes depicting the girls in their youth have a warm, cozy tone- shot through literal rose-tinted lens, whilst those filmed after Meg’s marriage and her departure from childhood are cold and harsh, with scenes devoid of the constant hum of conversation and music so characteristic of the scenes of her youth. This is reflective of the way that the mental states of the women change as they grow up. Amy, the youngest sister, is seen to transform from a slouchy, loud, goofy 12 to 13 year-old to a poised, reflective young woman- from a fiery girl with ambitions of ‘be[ing] an artist in Rome and be the best painter in the world.’ to a young woman extinguished by her new knowledge of the world- ‘Rome took all the vanity out of me. And Paris made me realize I’d never be a genius. I’m giving up all my foolish artistic hopes.’. Jo, too, ditches her stories she was so passionate about as a teenager for writing pieces she knows will get her some much-needed cash. Meg, the eldest, goes from ‘tired of being poor’ and embarrassed by her old dress at the debutantes ball to a struggling mother, having to sell the silk she wanted for a new dress to make ends meet. However, as depressing as these transformations and the scenes they take place in seem, the film finishes happily, with the warm light of childhood returning, perhaps symbolising the girl’s contentment in their, although possibly disappointing, crucially not ‘unimportant’ lives.