Director: Greta Gerwig | Distributed by: Sony Pictures | Rating: PG
There are countless superlatives you could use to describe Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. Inspirational, powerful, dynamic, empowering, funny. You get the idea; the list can go on and on. We’ll get to some of those, but there’s one in particular I want to focus on first: exciting.
Yes, a coming-of-age tale of four sisters living in the Civil War era is exciting. And it has less to do with the actual story playing out on screen (which is mostly fantastic, by the way) than it does with what Little Women represents. It represents the future.
Eliza Scanlen is 20 years old; Florence Pugh and Timothée Chalamet are 23; Saoirse Ronan is 25; Emma Watson is the senior of the group and is still only 29. And for Little Women writer-director Greta Gerwig, this is only her second solo effort. There is an incredible collection of young talent here, and it is truly something wonderful to witness. These five could be carrying the mantle in Hollywood for years, maybe (hopefully) decades, to come. To be able to see this group all together, all at the top of their game, is something special that we need to properly appreciate.
But talent alone does not a great movie make. For a recent example, you need look no further than Cats. Loaded with talent, that movie is a complete and total disaster. We can be thankful, then, that Little Women is under the watchful eye and protection of Gerwig. If you’ve listened to or read any of her recent interviews, you know what kind of personal connection she has to this story (and if you haven’t, I’d encourage you to do so). She respects and values it, and that is apparent from the word go.
Little Women, for those unfamiliar with the story, follows the four March sisters: Jo (Ronan), Meg (Watson), Amy (Pugh), and Beth (Scanlen) as they navigate their life growing up in 1860’s New England. Each sister is headstrong in their own way, desiring to live their life on their own terms. They know what they want and they go all in for it.
And it’s here that Gerwig takes a bit of a detour. She doesn’t focus on the what of it all. She puts the how and the why of the sisters’ decisions and lives at center stage. It all makes for a very compelling character study, as the movie yearns for the audience to deeply understand its characters.
Gerwig goes further down this path by splitting Little Women into two non-linear timelines, one when they’re younger, and one seven years later. And the story flashes back and forth between the two, allowing the viewer to more easily see how their pasts inform and influence their futures. This allows for stronger character development, which in turn helps the audience form closer, deeper connections to the March sisters.
And this is where the acting really comes into play. The same actors play the characters at both ages, so to some extent, they’re playing two different people. Everyone changes over the course of seven years, especially at such informative ages. And the result is some of the best ensemble cast work of any movie this year. I don’t want to get into the awards weeds here, but it is an absolute travesty that Little Women did not receive a Performance by an Ensemble nomination for the upcoming SAG Awards.
Everyone is great here. If there’s any justice, Saoirse Ronan is on her way to her fourth Oscar nomination. Emma Watson is superb in a role that’s not being talked about enough. But let’s talk about Florence Pugh.
What a year she’s having. This is her third role this year (after Fighting with my Family and Midsommar) and her third critically acclaimed performance. Forget male or female, lead or supporting, her performance here in Little Women is one of the single best of the year (and will seemingly end up as my personal favorite for the year). It takes a lot to stand out in such a talent-heavy project, yet at the end of the day, it’s Pugh standing tall above the rest.
When a movie has acting this elite from top to bottom, it’s a surefire hit. Factor in the character development, top-notch technical aspects, and important underlying messages, and you’re left with one of the best movies of the year. Not a bad way to close out 2019, is it?
Featuring some of the best ensemble work of the year, Little Women proves Greta Gerwig is here to stay.