[Screen It]


(2019) (Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh) (PG)

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Drama: Four sisters try to make their way in the world in mid-19th century America.
In this latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's novel of the same name, the time frame repeatedly switches between 1861 and 1867. In the earlier one, the four March sisters live at home with their mother, Marmee (LAURA DERN), while their father (BOB ODENKIRK) is off at war, serving the Union Army. Meg (EMMA WATSON) is the oldest of the girls, while Jo (SAOIRSE RONAN) is an aspiring writer, Amy (FLORENCE PUGH) wants to be a painter, and youngest sister Beth (ELIZA SCANLEN) enjoys playing the piano.

That's literal music to the ears of their rich neighbor, James Laurence (CHRIS COOPER), whose daughter enjoyed the piano before her untimely death, and he sees something of her in Beth. His spoiled grandson, Laurie (TIMOTHEE CHALAMET), becomes smitten with Jo, while his tutor, John Brooke (JAMES NORTON), has taken a liking to Meg. Getting married is something the girls' wealthy Aunt March (MERYL STREEP) encourages, what with believing it's impossible for any young woman to make an honest living for and by herself.

Despite that, and in the later time period, Jo is a writer working out of New York where she refuses the romantic overtures of her professor friend, Friedrich Bhaer (LOUIS GARREL), much like she did with Laurie years earlier. He's now in Europe and has set his sights on Amy who's staying with Aunt March, unaware that Beth has taken ill. And Meg is now married to John but is sad that their modest income means she can't have some of the finer things in life.

As all of that plays out over the two time periods, the sisters try to find their way in the world.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
Okay, I have to come right out and admit it. Before sitting down to watch "Little Women," the only thought that crossed my mind was "Do we really need yet another version of this story?" Of course, some of that stemmed from repeatedly having to sit through Hollywood's penchant for returning to the well over and over again with remake after remake and reboot after reboot.

But there's also the fact that not including two early silent film versions, Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel of the same name featuring a quartet of young women coming into their own and striving to be ahead of the period in which they live had previously been made into feature films in 1933, 1949, 1979, 1994 and 2018.

Despite that latter one obviously being in close temporal proximity to where we are now, most people probably far better remember the '94 version starring the likes of Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Christian Bale and Susan Sarandon among others. I sort of remember seeing it, but have no recollection of my response (what with a quarter of a century and thousands of other movies having passed across my eyes since then).

But you know what? Despite my reluctance and voting duty to watch the film for potential award consideration, I actually liked it a lot. I imagine most viewers will as well and this newest adaptation by writer/director Greta Gerwig could and probably will supplant the Ryder version as their favorite. Yes, it's that good and should earn its share of Oscar nominations in a variety of categories.

Not being a diehard aficionado of Alcott's original work (or all of those various film adaptations), I can't say for certainty if her storytelling technique is novel or not, but Gerwig (who made quite the impression with 2017's "Lady Bird" and continues to mature here, and then some) jumps back and forth between the story's two time settings of 1861 and 1868.

While that might sound gimmicky or possibly too messy to some, I found that it worked quite well in juxtaposing those two different periods in the lives of the four March sisters that are played by the same actresses across both. Saoirse Ronan is terrific as tomboy author Jo, who's first seen already living in New York and trying to sell a story her "friend" penned. Florence Pugh is equally as good playing her younger sister who's bratty and petulant in her earlier years but is studying painting while in Paris with her wealthy aunt (Meryl Streep) in her later ones.

Meg (Emma Watson) is already married in the second time frame, while Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is an aspiring pianist in the early one, drawing the attention of their wealthy widower neighbor (Chris Cooper) whose young daughter was also fond of the piano before her untimely death.

His playboy grandson (Timothee Chalamet, just as mesmerizing to watch as ever) ends up playing into the romantic storyline of two of the sisters, while the girls' mother (Laura Dern) holds down the fort while her husband/their father is away in the Civil War and she tries to instill in them a sense of both independence and charity.

Despite knowing how things would ultimately play out, I fell for this version hook, line and sinker, and was surprised by how much it emotionally affected me. The acting work from all involved is great, the technical work (costumes, production design, score, cinematography, editing and so on) is terrific and Gerwig's handling of the material from both a writing and directing standpoint is something to behold. For that and the surprising impact it had on me, "Little Women" ends up as one of the year's best flicks and scores a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 1, 2019 / Posted December 25, 2019

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