Little Women review: say hello to the feminist film of 2019

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Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel is as empowering as everyone hoped.

How many women have been nominated for a Best Director Oscar? Five. Ever. This is not the first time we’ve made this point, but until we see true equality, we’ll keep beating this drum.

Our war cry couldn’t be more timely with this month’s release of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, which could make her the second woman ever to win the award after Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, 2010). Her triumphant adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 19th-century novel is the feminist film of 2019. 

The director teams up again with her Lady Bird star Saoirse Ronan, who plays Jo March with utter conviction and award-worthy vigour. The film introduces us to Jo as an adult in New York, she’s trying to sell her writing, and the action flashes back to her adolescent years as she bickers and bonds with her sisters. Emma Watson plays elder sister Meg, Eliza Scanlen (Sharp Objects) plays sickly Beth, and Florence Pugh (Little Drummer Girl) is the perfect fit for feisty Amy. Laura Dern is the model matriarch as Mrs March, thankfully slightly less saintly than she is in the books. The barbed wit is reserved for Meryl Streep blissfully cast as Aunt March.

Thrown into this heady hormonal mix is rich young neighbour Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, a role that Timothée Chalamet could have been invented for. The floppy haired Call Me By Your Name star is delightful as Laurie, who becomes firm friends with Jo and turns the head of Amy.

The drama plays out with a warm heart and witty script. What remains lovely about Little Women is its essentially kind soul: while a certain sister behaves abominably at one point, most people are jolly nice to each other, while Laurie is welcomed into the girls’ theatrical performances in the spirit of friendship, rather than gendered competitiveness. Men are not the enemy here – but patriarchal society still is. Jo is underestimated as a female writer, and the young women’s options are considered to revolve around marriage. A rambunctious, playful and ambitious career woman, Jo declares that she does not wish to marry at all, and there’s a brief opportunity for today’s audiences to make an LGBTQ+ reading of this. Jo questions everything the establishment thrusts at her, and uses intelligent and funny arguments to challenge the system.

With this modern version of a classic story, Gerwig gives us a film as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. And despite its post-civil war setting, it’s fiercely relevant to the Time’s Up era. So give that woman an Oscar – and open the gates to many more.

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