Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” is one of the most-filmed stories of all time, so is another version of it really necessary?
Maybe not, but if you love solid and enjoyable moviemaking, you’ll be glad the latest one exists anyway. Tackling the tale was a passion project for actress turned director-screenwriter Greta Gerwig, and her love for it shows in every department … certainly in the casting, as she enlists her “Lady Bird” star Saoirse Ronan to play Jo, arguably the pivotal sister among the March siblings of 1800s New England.
Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen play the other sisters, Meg, Amy and Beth — and while each has her own story to varying degrees, it’s when they’re together that “Little Women” logically draws the most emotional power. Laura Dern also contributes to that as their mother, and there’s a clearly notable turn by Meryl Streep as a rich relative.
And that’s “rich” in more ways than one. No one beats Streep at playing studied snobbery, and she’s right in her element as she appears to disapprove of just about everyone and everything.
By definition, “Little Women” is a tale primarily built for its female characters, but Timothee Chalamet (also working for Gerwig again after “Lady Bird”), Bob Odenkirk and a particularly affecting Chris Cooper are among those playing men in the ladies’ world. That won’t prevent a lot of males from considering this a movie not really for them — and that’s a shame, since this really is a beautifully crafted picture for everyone.
Twenty-five years may seem like a long time, but it’s not really in terms of distance between movie versions of the same tale. The 1994 retelling of “Little Women,” directed by Gillian Armstrong and starring Winona Ryder, rightfully has an army of fans … to whom another version so relatively soon might generate a big question mark. Until they see it, anyway, since chances are good that they’ll decide that it compares very favorably.
However many times a story is told, how successful any one version is relies on the specific care taken with it. Since Greta Gerwig (making a smartly commercial move in her nascent behind-the-scenes career) has been very careful, very deliberate and very faithful in her approach to “Little Women,” yes … there is room for this one, along with all the others.