In this thoroughly engaging film, the experiences of the colorful and high-spirited March sisters speak directly to our own yearnings to express our creativity, to find adventure as we venture out into the world, and to know the love that can bloom in family life.
The film is the latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel set during and after the Civil War. Director Greta Gerwig pays ample respect to what generations of young women have loved about the story and also connects it to contemporary interest in the many splendored roles of women in society.
The story opens as Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) is trying to sell a story to a New York magazine publisher. He agrees to publish it but reminds her if she wants to sell more, her heroines must by the end be either married or dead. His words seem to be predicting the unfolding of this film.
Meanwhile, the youngest of the March sisters, Amy (Florence Pugh), is studying painting in Paris. She has traveled there with their rich aunt (Meryl Streep) who has advised that her first priority should be to find a rich man to marry so she can support her family.
Just when the viewer is beginning to know these two, Gerwig shifts the story back seven years to happy times in New England. It's Christmastime, and the four March sisters are planning to put on a play that Jo has written. The eldest, Meg (Emma Watson), enjoys the dramatic acting, though she's also excited about going to a party. Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is already an accomplished pianist. With the sisters, we meet their next-door neighbor, Teddy "Laurie" Laurence (Timothee Chalamet), who is infatuated by all of the little women, but especially by Jo. Overseeing all the activity is their mother Marmee (Laura Dern). It's her idea that they take their Christmas breakfast to a family in need in their community. "Do it for someone else" is her motto.
The timeframe will shift throughout the film, an unusual choice by Gerwig which works remarkably well. Meg will marry John Brooke (James Norton), their tutor, and resign herself to live in poverty. Beth will contract scarlet fever. Marmee will go to Washington D.C. to nurse her husband (Bob Odenkirk) when he is wounded in the war. Through one incident after another, Gerwig paints a picture of a family that even in uncertain times will always rebound into each others' arms.
"This world is nothing but a school of love; our relationships with our relatives are the university in which we are meant to learn what love and devotion truly are."
— Swami Muktananda quoted in The Inner Treasure by Jonathan Star
The March household teaches many lessons about what it means to be a loving family. We see how they savor being together, to the point of not wanting to grow up if it means being separated. We watch as they make their home a place of acceptance and welcome. And we learn that family life is a place of play and healing. Notice how they always seem to laugh in the presence of trouble and disagreement.
Watching the sisters interacting, we were reminded of the school lessons Robert Fulghum shared in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten:
- "Remember the first word you learned — the biggest word of all — LOOK."
- "Share everything."
- "When you go out in the world, hold hands and stick together."
- "Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody."
- "Live a balanced life — learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some."
Watch and experience Little Women as your next course in the School of Love.