(director/writer: Greta Gerwig; screenwriter: novel of Louisa May Alcott; cinematographer: Yorick Le Saux; editor: Nick Houy; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Saoirse Ronan (Jo March), Emma Watson (Meg March), Florence Pugh (Amy March), Eliza Scanlen (Beth March), (Mr. March), Timothée Chalamet (Theodore ‘Laurie’ Laurence), Tracy Letts (Mr. Dashwood), James Norton (John Brooke), Louis Garrel (Friedrich Bhaer), Jayne Houdyshell (Hannah), Chris Cooper (Mr. Laurence), Meryl Streep (Aunt March), Laura Dern (Marmee March), Bob Odenkirk (Mr. March); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Amy Pascal, Denise Di Novi, Robin Swicord; Sony Pictures; 2019)

“The Gerwig version is a thoughtful one, and should be much appreciated by fans of Alcott looking for a fresh way to see it.”

Reviewed  by Dennis Schwartz

It’s based on the 1868 classic novel of Louisa May Alcott that tells about the strengths of sisterhood. It’s the seventh film adaptation.This one updates it for the smartphone generation. Writer-director Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”/”Nights and Weekends”) gives it a different spin and tries to shake things up a bit, even mixing up the chronology of the novel, making this seem not like the Little Women I recall from my youth (I’m on board with the 1933 faithful version, where Katharine Hepburn was the rebellious heroine in need of maturity). But Gerwig’s version still respects Alcott’s original themes, is warm and heartfelt. It’s just not without some missteps, such as passing over much of the historical context in the book that allows some of the film characters to seem misguided at times and act as if they were millennials. In particular, its fiercely independent heroine (Saoirse Ronan) comes across at times more egotistically motivated than intended in the book.

It’s set in mid-19th-century Massachusetts and centers on the four March sisters: Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen). The oldest Meg is responsible and conventional; Amy’s the youngest, the glamorous one who longs for fame and advances from a brat during the course of the story to a level-headed realist (Pugh steals the film with a tremendous performance); the shy one is the sickly Beth; and, Jo is the focal one of the story, the independent writer, who fights against the restrictions placed on her gender and rejects traditional views on how she’s supposed to behave. The family is poor, with their father (Bob Odenkirk) off fighting for the north in the Civil War. Laura Dern plays their kindhearted mother with a quiet conviction (and is perfectly cast).

In the opening scene, the impassioned Jo is an adult trying to sell her first story in 1860 to a sympathetic New York newspaper editor (Tracy Letts). The editor advises her that if the hero of her story is female, “make sure she’s married by the end. Or dead. Either way.” Jo is depicted as an outspoken modern woman with literary ambitions but no particular artistic skills other than being a headstrong feminist.

Timothée Chalamet plays the rakish Laurie, the wealthy neighbor’s grandson, who attracts all of the sisters. Chris Cooper is the grieving grandfatherly Mr. Laurence, who can get worked up over hearing a memorable piano tune coming from the next room. James Norton plays John Brooke, the penniless tutor who Meg falls for. Louis Garrel plays Prof. Bhaer, the dashing Frenchman who becomes her mentor in New York. Meryll Streep’s zany, haughty and wealthy Aunt March, injects much needed humor into it.

Covering two time periods seven years apart, the March sisters are viewed in their teens and later when they’re grown women.

The Gerwig version is a thoughtful one, and should be much appreciated by fans of Alcott looking for a fresh way to see it.

REVIEWED ON 12/13/2019  GRADE: B+