It seems like every few years there’s a remake of certain classic novels, until stories like ‘Little Women’ and ‘Pride And Prejudice’ start to feel as overdone as ‘Spider-Man’.
It takes a lot to make a constantly retold story feel fresh and engaging, and the newest version of ‘Little Women’ manages it effortlessly. On the surface, it would be easy to mistake ‘Little Women’ for yet another dose of sappy sentimentality timed for the holiday season, but there’s a witty, near scathing heart beating beneath all the frills and fripperies.
When it comes to movie versions of regency-era novels by women, far too many focus on the clothes, dancing and romance, forgetting that writers like Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen had a habit of lobbing truth bombs from behind their pretty hand-fans with startling accuracy. Modern readers often miss the social criticism in classic storytelling, and it’s especially easy to forget that there’s political and social snark galore in the classics written by women given how well hidden it often needed to be. ‘Little Women’ captures the cynicism and spite of Alcott’s work without sacrificing the fanciful camouflage, and honestly, it’s a delight to see.
The March sisters are flawed, fearless in their own rights, with spirits that could change the world if not for that pesky ‘being born women’ thing. At times ‘Little Women’ is painfully topical, and there’s a certain base irony to a movie that doesn’t shy away from the realities of inherent sexism being part of a wider discussion on why the Golden Globes hates women in movie making (yet again, no movies directed by women have made the best movie lists).
Visually, ‘Little Women’ is stunning, with the sort of scenery to leave you wanting to jet off for a travail about the countryside. The cast has entrancing chemistry, with even cynics like me lost to the joys and sorrows of the sisters. It’s hard to imagine there wasn’t a sisterly bond at play behind the scenes, the title characters feel real in a way few iterations have managed. While I’d thought it impossible for anyone to steal scenes when working alongside Meryl Streep, Laura Dern and Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan manages it effortlessly, her Golden Globe nomination incredibly well-earned.
I’ll be honest: It’s jarring to see Emma Watson playing a mother, if only because there’s always a moment in her movies of wondering why Hermione Granger is acting so out of character. And while there are a few niggling details in the storytelling that distracted me, it certainly wasn’t enough to diminish the story overall.
This probably isn’t your ideal movie if you’re not a fan of unrepentant snark and stubbornness in your heroines, and it’s not necessarily the feel-good movie of the season. But for those wanting a complex, engaging story of family and finding your place in the world, this should definitely make the ‘must watch’ list.