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Little Women (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 6, 2023

Little Women


Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Jayne Houdyshell, Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep, Jayne Houdyshell, Mason Alban, Rafael Silva, Emily Edström, Maryann Plunkett, Hadley Robinson, Lonnie Farmer, Charlotte Kinder and Ana Kayne.

Screenplay by Greta Gerwig.

Directed by Greta Gerwig.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures. 135 minutes. Rated PG.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all! If you are like my family, you’ve already scoured the reviews of all the December 25th film releases to determine how you will spend your movie viewing day. So, you already know that Greta Gerwig’s 2019 retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women is a lovely film adaptation with an insanely stellar cast – a perfect Christmas film to remember the true spirit of the season. What can I possibly add with my review?

Instead of a traditional review, because you already know the story, I am going to discuss the elephant in the room. Sure, the 2019 Little Women is a great film, but how does it compare to Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 Little Women – my first introduction to the beloved March family? I remember being captivated and enchanted by the 1994 film and story, so much so that I went out that day and picked up the classic novel. The cast embodied the characters to a tee and drove my imagination as I read the characters on the page.

So, how do the two films stack up? As I watched the incredible performances by the 2019 standout cast, my memory continued to float back to 1994’s film. Let me preface this conversation by saying that both screenplays are worthy tributes to the original work, capturing classic quotes directly from the novel. Both have beautifully crafted scores that complement the storylines well. Both films, in my opinion, are wonderful to watch and I feel certain, will be films that I continue to revisit over time.

Most interestingly, both films have attracted some of the best actors and actresses of their respective generations to do their part to portray the characters of Little Women.

Jo March: The second eldest March sister and beloved heroine, writer, prefers pants to dresses, sells her hair to fund Marmee’s trip to Washington to care for their injured war hero father. In 1994, Winona Ryder helmed the role with her petite elegance and quiet strength. In 2019, the role is performed to perfection by Saiorse Ronan, a performance that has already garnered nominations in the upcoming awards season. She plays the role with conviction and is rightfully one of the more noteworthy performances of the film.

Meg March: Eldest daughter, quietly passionate for the stage and her family. She follows Marmee’s example choosing love over material wealth when she marries the poor but kind Mr. John Brooke, tutor to neighbor and March family friend, Laurie (see below). In 1994, she was played by Trini Alvarado (in her most noteworthy role) and in 2019, the role is reprised by Emma Watson. While Watson’s Meg is given far more screen time in the 2019 film, Alvarado’s Meg seems more memorable. Perhaps it is because the Meg role, while perfect for Watson, seems to blend in with so many other similar performances that she has rendered.

Beth March: Third in line; quiet, kind. Her talent for the piano is given far more screen time in the 2019 film, but alas, Eliza Scanlen’s Beth stands no chance against Claire Danes. The look that Claire Danes gives when she has returned to the family home after contracting scarlet fever is unforgettable.

Amy March: The youngest March sister is the sister who physically changes the most over the seven-year timeline of the story. In 1994’s linear flowing timeline, the film utilizes two actresses to capture younger (played by the incomparable Kirsten Dunst) and older (played by Samantha Mathis) Amy, with the changes occurring offscreen when she is sent away from Beth’s scarlet fever germs to live with Aunt March. Young Amy is petulant and spoiled, but good natured and desperately in love with Laurie. Older Amy is refined and quite clear that it has always been her intention to marry rich – it is, after all, the duty that has been left to her in order to provide security for her family. While I love 2019’s Amy, played by the incredibly versatile Florence Pugh, the role is forced to be played by the single actress due to the non-linear timeline of the 2019 film. While Pugh does a fantastic job throughout, younger Amy is played better by Dunst. But admittedly, after watching Pugh in Outlaw King, Fighting with My Family, and Midsommar (all far older roles) it is harder for me to see her in a role where she is portraying a young child due to my own flawed memory. This is definitely a point that I want to revisit the next time I watch the 2019 film.

Theodore Laurence (Laurie/Teddy depending on which March girl is speaking to him) was played by Christian Bale in 1994 and by Timothee Chalomet in 2019. While Chalomet is always a joy to watch in a film and has a strong performance, for me, it is Bale for the win in this role.

1994 wins again for me in Susan Sarandon’s Marmee over 2019’s Laura Dern. While I love both actresses and while both were excellent, Sarandon truly embodies Marmee for me.

Alexandre Desplat’s score is sweeping throughout the 2019 film but feels almost a bit too distracting and on my re-watch of 1994. I appreciated the moments of silence in the film, notably absent in 2019.

While I will not be making a final statement on which film I preferred, I can say that it was with great pleasure that I rewatched 1994’s version after my 2019 viewing experience. Having said that, time alters perception and I feel certain that my thoughts will change over future watches. Either way, both films are great introductions to the characters of Little Women, and both will inspire audiences to read the classic novel.

Again, Happy Holiday’s to all – may your movie viewing be plentiful and satisfying!

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: December 25, 2019.

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