‘Little Women’: breathtaking screenplay but lacks connection

Amy Yu, Tara Kapoor, and Gracia Hmelar

Spoilers included in the review 

Carried by its stars, charming costumes, and Louisa May Alcott’s timeless storyline, “Little Women” presents a stunning aesthetic but falls short in character development.

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures and Columbia Pictures

The six Academy Award-nominated film, produced by Columbia Pictures, brings its viewers on a two-hour rollercoaster following the journeys of Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) and her three sisters through childhood, each striving to achieve their unique aspirations in life.

Viewers that enter the movie expecting a real-life display of the classic novel will not be disappointed as the film adheres for the most part to the main storyline. Director Greta Gerwig’s witty and contemporary screenplay effortlessly relates to younger viewers. “Little Women” (2019), however, lacks fundamental development between characters that the book describes in detail, from Amy (Florence Pugh) and Jo’s constant vengeful exchanges to the timeline of Jo’s romance with Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel). 

In Gerwig’s adaptation, Friedrich makes few appearances early on in the movie — namely, critiquing Jo’s writing before she storms off in a fit, declaring their friendship over. Yet, when he spontaneously visits the March home, later on, to tell her he is moving to California, Jo has reportedly fallen in love with him, chasing him through the rain to stop his departure.

Jo’s sudden realization of her love for Friedrich surfaces from nowhere — especially confusing after Jo expresses to Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) that she desires to be free and never marry after he confesses his love for her.

The director’s heavy focus on Jo’s younger sister Beth’s (Eliza Scanlen) deteriorating health, and eventual death causes the pace of the story to slow, further cheapening the relationship between Jo and Friedrich.

Amy and Laurie’s romance sparks suddenly as well; Amy declines his unanticipated marriage offer indignantly, refusing to be the one he settles for after Jo’s rejection, only to be pronounced man and wife a couple of scenes later following a time jump.

Skipping back and forth between the girls’ lives in the present and future, the timeline of “Little Women” (2019) links childhood events to scenes in their adult lives as the movie progresses. The alternating effect between past and present adds depth to the film, allowing the viewer to contrast the characters’ growth over the course of the film. 

Many may be drawn to the movie’s star-studded cast, featuring four-time Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan, 21-time Academy Award nominee Meryl Streep, Florence Pugh (nominated for Supporting Actress for this film), Academy Oscar-nominated Timothée Chalamet, and numerous other Hollywood celebrities. 

A theme of female empowerment is heavily present throughout the movie, carried out through the March sisters and their upbringing. Raising four daughters in wartime, Marmee (Laura Dern) is a role model for her girls, who follow her example as independent-minded, strong-willed women.

Gerwig’s screenplay alludes to themes of independence and confidence within all of the girls, and the director adds her own touches to the book’s dialogue to highlight gender inequality in emotional monologues.

Amy explains to Laurie why the economic motives for her marriage trump true love, while Jo expresses her disapproval of society’s expectations of women in a heartfelt discussion with her mother.

“You know, I just feel like women, they have minds, and they have souls as well as just hearts,” Jo cries. “And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it.”

Little Women

2 hours 15 minutes

Rated PG

Directed by Greta Gerwig

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson