Greta Gerwig wanted to make an American version of "Pride and Prejudice." Well enough, but she shouldn't have titled it "Little Women." Her movie of that title betrays Louisa May Alcott's book.
As in British adaptations of Jane Austen novels, there is much attention paid to pretty young women, pretty dresses, mansions, and lush landscapes in the US and Europe. Again, as in Jane Austen adaptations, women's lives revolve around men and romance. Who will marry whom? It's a courtship game of musical chairs. You don't want to be the one who is left standing at the end, so you grab the best, richest man you can before someone else grabs him.
Gerwig wants her characters to appear "woke" amidst all their marriage obsessions, so she has a character deliver a shrill feminist manifesto every ten minutes or so. Amy is given a speech that could have been lifted word for word from Emma Thompson's script for "Sense and Sensibility."
These speeches are not true to the book or to Louisa May Alcott's life. In fact it was Alcott's male editor, Thomas Niles, who encouraged her to write "Little Women." Her publisher published many women writers, including Emily Dickinson and Julia Ward Howe.
Even as Gerwig's "Little Women" is built around women yearning for Mr Right, every time a man touches a woman she swats his hand away and shrieks something like, "I don't want you! I want to write! Paint! Pose in this pretty dress!" Denying women's attraction to, and relationships with men isn't feminism, it's brittle, artificial, Hollywood wokeness.
Because Gerwig's so-called "Little Women" is about romance, the main characters are much older than they are in Alcott's book. In the book, the girls are 12, 13, 15, and 16. In the movie, Saorise Ronan is 25, Emma Watson is 29, Florence Pugh is 24 (and looks 30), and Eliza Scanlen is 21. And boy do these women look like women, not at all like girls.
What's more, not one of them is American. They belong in an Austen adaptation, not in the original, and prototypical, "American girl" story. No matter how good they are as actresses, they never conjure the brisk, flinty New England soul beneath their costumes and studied American accents. At least Katherine Hepburn, a Yankee, was able to do that in the 1933, George Cukor adaptation.
Louisa May Alcott was steeped in New England Transcendentalism. This movement was tough and demanding. It's why her family was so poor. They were trying to reach human perfection. The Alcott family lived for a time on a vegetarian commune called Fruitlands that was so strict that they wouldn't even allow themselves to use cattle to plow the land. That self-righteousness is inescapable in Alcott's writing, her life, and "Little Women."
"Little Women" is not a book about pretty women, pretty dresses, and pretty mansions. It's a book about trying to grow up to be a role model of human ethical excellence. Poverty is a very big theme in "Little Women." This is a book about people surviving starvation, cold, and malnutrition through sheer force of will. Greta Gerwig used stripper Cardi B as inspiration when making her "Little Women." It shows.
Gerwig, for reasons I can't begin to fathom, decided to tell the story dyslexic style. Scenes are jumbled. A character dies, and then is seen alive again. I don't see how this adds anything to the final product.
I don't know if Meryl Streep is overacting or if everyone around her is underacting, but when she's onscreen you think, "There's Meryl Streep, the great actress." Takes you out of the story. Timothee Chalamet is supernaturally gifted. He is brilliant and quivering with life and believable in every scene he is in. He deserves a much better movie. Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, and Chris Cooper are all terrific as the publisher, the March family patriarch, and the rich next door neighbor. Ironic that the best performances in this man-bashing film are by male actors.