Magazine article Variety

Little Women

Magazine article Variety

Little Women

Article excerpt

Little Women

FILM REVIEW

If there's one thing I know about real-world little women, it's that they will read "Little Women" no matter the era. That's the timeless quality of certain literary classics, and Louisa May Alcott's Civil War tale of four close-knit sisters continues to delight, feeling every bit as alive today as it must have 150 years ago. In that span, the novel has never gone out of print, and its popularity seems unlikely to fade in the centuries to come.

Movies, however, are another matter. Young people seem far less interested in watching films made before their birth, and for that reason, there will always be good reason to remake "Little Women"; after all, every generation deserves its own version. It's been 25 years since Winona Ryder played Jo March, and 61 more since Katharine Hepburn tackled the role for George Cukor. Now, director Greta Gerwig has identified that it's as good a time as any to dust off Alcott's novel for a fresh interpretation.

As one might hope, Gerwig's interpretation does right by the material, assembling a dream cast to play the March siblings - Emma Watson as eldest sister Meg, the teacher; Saoirse Ronan as Jo, the writer and Alcott's clear counterpart; Eliza Scanlen as Beth, the musical one; and Florence Pugh as Amy, impulsive and the artist of the family - and in Timothée Chalamet, the perfect actor to embody the book's curly-headed boy next door, Laurie.

Over the years, that role has gone to actors ranging from a pre-Batman Christian Bale (who first asked Ryder's Jo to dance) to Jonah Hauer-King (just announced as Prince Eric in Disney's "The Little Mermaid" reboot), but Chal- amet feels the Lauriest of Lauries: doeeyed and floppy-haired, alternately indolent and hyper-attentive, and so faithful as to seem almost fraternal. That's fitting, as "Little Women" is a wholesome, kindhearted tale of generosity and good manners, where malicious acts occasionally occur, but not nearly as often as acts of charity.

Rather than telling the story straight through, the way Alcott and each of her other adapters have, Gerwig opts to shuffle the scenes, telling "Little Women" almost entirely out of order, except for the Christmas letter from Father (Bob Odenkirk) that opens the tale and the kiss that ends it. As in "Lady Bird," she and editor Nick Houy keep things moving at a quick clip, though skipping around in time is a mistake, making a plot Gerwig must have considered too episodic, or else too melodramatic for her taste, even more so on both counts - as evidenced by the way that, in hindsight, it's the emotional episodes we return to in our memories, rather than the overall arc.

Call me corny, but "Little Women" hooks me every time, in part because Alcott created such lively characters, but also on account of the way she approached the institution of marriage. …

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