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Little Women

Little Women (2019)
The world could have continued to rotate without yet another film version of the Louisa May Alcott literary classic, Little Women but director and screenwriter Greta Gerwig is to be applauded for the loving attention she brought to her 2019 re-visioning of the classic, which is so exquisitely mounted and beautifully acted that its beauty and freshness has earned the film six Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture.

It should be noted that this review is coming from someone to whom this film is his first exposure to this piece. I have never read the Louisa May Alcott novel and have never seen any of the four theatrical versions or two television versions of the story.

For those, like myself, who have never encountered this story, judging from the costuming, the setting appears to be pre-Civil War where we meet the four March sisters: Jo, Amy, Meg, and Beth. Jo is an aspiring writer and in this version, the film opens with Jo selling a story and then flashing back to her tempestuous relationship with her three sisters, who all have their own issues, but through everything, never forget they are sisters, even when they might be fighting over the same man, a rakish rogue named Theodore "Laurie" Lawrence.

This story first came to the screen in 1933 with Katharine Hepburn playing Jo. June Allyson played Jo in the 1949 version and Winona Ryder became Jo in 1994. The story even got a contemporary re-telling in 2018 with Sara Davenport playing Jo. Greta Gerwig proves herself to be a director and writer to be reckoned with as she manages to mount a story that is period appropriate and seems to respect the original Alcott vision, while instilling a contemporary sense of joyous sisterhood into the March girls that is quite infectious and makes us care about these girls.

Because I have never seen any other versions of this story before, I'm not sure who to blame here, but I did find my head spinning, especially during the first half iof the film, trying to keep up with the plotting. Each sister had her own story and each individual story seemed to intertwine with another, but what does shine through here is that Jo is the glue that held the March family together. The film also seemed to move at a snail's pace, making this elaborately mounted soap opera a little labored at times.

We're able to forgive a lot of this though thanks to incredible production values including stunning cinematography and costumes and a top-notch cast, led by Saoirse Ronan, who has earned her fourth Oscar nomination for her sparkling performance as Jo. Ronan adds another impressive portrayal to her resume that will contribute to her journey as a top Hollywood power player. I also loved Florence Pugh as Amy, a fire and ice performance that fascinates throughout and earned her a supporting nomination. Timothee Chalamet was robbed of a nomination for his slick and sexy Laurie and Laura Dern, nominated this year for Marriage Story, is a lovely Marmee.

There is one thing that gnawed at me throughout while watching this though...the Louisa May Alcott novel is an American classic that young girls have been reading for decades and, for many, is considered a slice of Americana. Does it bother anyone else that Gerwig did not cast any American actresses in the four leading roles? It seems so odd that Gerwig would remake this American classic with non-American actresses, but a small quibble I guess.