A funny thing has started happening to me of late. Whenever I’m feeling particularly low, I find myself gravitating to YouTube. My fingers, independent of my body, type in 18 letters. I settle back. I press play. And I watch the trailer for Little Women.
I am enough of a Little Women purist to feel a sense of apprehension at any new adaptation of this beloved pop culture product. I was born into the world of the 1994 film, I was raised on Christian Bale’s Laurie, all implausibly floppy hair and cheeky grin. My Jo is Winona Ryder, my Marmee Susan Sarandon. Why would I need another Little Women adaptation, when one so perfect already exists?
The Oscar-nominated writer and director of Lady Bird has, by all accounts, created a faithful adaptation that also brings a fresh and nuanced perspective to the story, reimagining the chronology and giving weight to characters that might have been ignored in previous adaptations. With Lady Bird star Saiorse Ronan as Jo, fierce and confident and desperate to be make her own way, Emma Watson as beautiful eldest sister Meg, Eliza Scanlen as kindhearted Beth and Florence Pugh as headstrong, proud Amy, the movie also boasts a star-studded cast. (Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, James Norton, Louis Garrel and Timothée Chalamet are among the co-stars.)
The film has already been tipped for Oscar glory, with pundits suggesting that Gerwig, Ronan, Chalamet and Pugh could all win big during awards season. But what about the reviews? The film has screened for critics this week, and the response has been unanimous: Little Women is a hit.
Vulture described the film as like “throwing down the gauntlet”. “Gerwig’s Little Women demands its viewers reconsider these familiar characters and what we’ve always assumed they stood for. It doesn’t just brim with life, it brims with ideas about happiness, economic realities, and what it means to push against or to hew to the expectations laid out for one’s gender.”
The AV Club noted that the movie demands that the audience question the role of love and loneliness in a woman’s life. “Little Women doesn’t prioritise romantic love over other kinds of intimacy and affection, but neither does it dismiss the need for such love as incompatible with being an independent woman. In fact, for the stubborn Jo, admitting that she’s lonely is a bigger challenge than leaving home to pursue her writing career.”
The Guardian, in a five star review, describe the movie as “warm, funny and heartfelt”. “This is such a beguiling, generous film from Gerwig. There is a lot of love in it.”
The Hollywood Reporter argued that the film looks set to become a classic for fresh audiences: “Gerwig has taken a treasured perennial of popular American literature and reshaped it for a new generation, which should give the captivating film a long shelf life.”
For Entertainment Weekly, it is Ronan who shines: “[Her] fierce, tender Jo carries nearly every scene she’s in; a fourth Oscar nod for the Irish actress, still somehow only 25, seems both inevitable and earned.”
Little Women is in cinemas in the US on 25 December and in the UK on 27 December.
Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.
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