As someone who has not read the literary classic, Little Women, I was a bit nervous walking into my screening of Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaption. 2 and a half hours later I walked out of the theatre realizing I’d just watched one of the best films of the year. 2019 was the year for film. From Parasite to The Farewell we’ve been in no shortage of excellent filmmaking and Little Women was no exception. At its core, Little Women is about family, childhood, and the importance of love.
Gerwig has an amazing way of writing dialogue. Characters often speak over each other and different conversations happen all at once, but everything is still clear and concise. Little Women was the perfect text for her to transcribe into a script because of her particular screenwriting talents. The story centers around four young sisters, each with their own set of talents. Meg dreams of living a modest life – marrying and having children. Jo is a writer, she redefines masculinity and femininity through her styles. Amy is artistic and plans to be a painter while Beth is quiet and musically inclined; spending most of her time at the piano.
Although Louisa May Alcott’s novel had been adapted five times prior to Gerwig’s installment. In order to separate her adaption from those before, Gerwig chose to write the script in a non-linear structure. Rather than follow the story of the March family from the beginning of the novel to the end, Gerwig chose to flip between childhood and adulthood.
The childhood and adulthood scenes are vastly different. When we see the March sisters as pre-teens, their world is bright and warm. The light shines brightly through windows, the summer warmth hits each budding flower and the March sisters are in a constant state of happiness. Jo, Amy, Beth, and Meg live happily with their mother, Marmee. When we see the March sisters as young girls, the dialogue is constant. When one person speaks, someone else talks over them. There is always something to be said, argued over, or laughed about. In adulthood, the girls are quiet and with Beth sick, the house is silent without her music. Each sister remains bold but Beth’s imminent passing dims their flame.
Relationships are the heart of this story. For Theodore “Laurie” Lawrence, loving relationships have been in short supply. He lives with his grandfather, a kind but stern man who initially comes off as quite reserved. Laurie lacks a maternal figure until he meets the March family. After accompanying Jo and Meg home, he steps inside a new world. The March home is small and busy. Marmee is baking and the sisters are rambling to each other loudly. Marmee is kind to Laurie, even telling him to call her mom. For the first time in his life, Laurie experiences a motherly relationship.
Laurie’s grandfather also experiences a new relationship. Mr. Lawrence grows attached to the musically advanced Beth. She reminds him of his daughter, who left behind a room full of instruments after her death. After allowing Beth to play his daughter’s piano, he develops a paternal bond with her, eventually gifting her a new piano.
One subtle detail representing the March family bond is the costume design. Each sister has a color incorporated into nearly every outfit. For Amy, her color is blue, Jo is red, Meg is green, and Beth is pink. These colors are subtly included in their respective character’s wardrobe. Amy wears blue skirts and dresses, Jo wears a red cape, Meg wears a bright green scarf, and Beth wears a pink cape. These color choices are so important because they lead back to Marmee. In every single costume Marmee wears, blue, red, green, and pink are intertwined within. In a Vanity Fair interview, Gerwig stated “…All of Laura’s [Dern] costumes weave the colors of the four girls in her costumes because she is all of them in one. And different parts of her spirit went into each girl”. Details like this are what bring the film together. It’s something we might not notice the first time but we subconsciously see. Marmee is her children and her children are pieces of her.
Little Women is full of small details that add up to create a wonderful film. While staying true to its source material, Gerwig and the cast enhance the familial bonds portrayed in the film through great dialogue and acting.