The cast of “Little WOmen” includes (from left) Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Eliza Scanlen. (Columbia Pictures)

The cast of “Little WOmen” includes (from left) Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Eliza Scanlen. (Columbia Pictures)

First-rate cast proves ‘Little Women’ is worth revisiting

In this version of the 1868 novel, writer-director Greta Gerwig emphasizes Jo and her development as a writer.

Maybe we didn’t need another adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” The 1868 novel has had plenty of attention over the years.

But we got a good one. Thanks to the care of writer-director Greta Gerwig and a strong cast, this “Little Women” has more than enough new wrinkles to justify its revisit to familiar territory.

Once again we are absorbed in the Civil War-era concerns of the March family, whose four daughters navigate the challenges of their age and their family’s slightly disadvantaged economic status.

Our focal point is Jo (the peerless Saoirse Ronan), a budding writer, who enjoys a flirtation with wealthy neighbor Laurie (Timothee Chalamet, from “Call Me by Your Name”) but is determined to be independent in her life.

Jo’s sisters are Meg (“Harry Potter” regular Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and calm, sickly Beth (Eliza Scanlen). Their mother, the wise and stalwart Marmee, is played by Laura Dern; father, who spends most of his time away at war, is played by Bob Odenkirk.

Gerwig’s superb eye for casting includes Chris Cooper as Laurie’s lonely grandfather, Louis Garrel as a foreign professor, and Tracy Letts (he was the dad in Gerwig’s “Lady Bird”) as a skeptical publisher. And why not toss in Meryl Streep, popping up as the vinegary Aunt March?

In telling the story, Gerwig cuts between two different time periods — one with the sisters as girls coming into their own, the other seven years later, as more somber issues play out. This means that even the earliest scenes in the narrative are shaded a little with age.

The structure also helps us see that Jo’s story is not about finding a man and getting married, but about becoming a writer. The attention Gerwig pays to how a book would be published in the mid-19th century tells us everything about what she sees as important to Jo, who not only must struggle with the age-old artist’s dilemma of how to turn the mess of real life into crafted form, but how to do it as a woman in a man’s world. You get the feeling this film has been made with the same tender care as those handcrafted books.

That extends to Yorick Le Saux’s photography (New England looks authentic, without pausing for postcard views) and Alexandre Desplat’s soulful music.

The actors, especially, create an authentic sense of camaraderie — Gerwig gets lively energy going without violating the period setting. Ronan leads the way with her customary fierce determination, and the rail-thin Chalamet does a deft job of suggesting a bright, fun young fellow who is maybe not the man of Jo’s dreams.

The film’s most flagrant scene-stealer is pug-faced Florence Pugh, the star of “Lady Macbeth” and “Midsommar,” a willful and funny presence. This is one “Little Women” where you’re as curious about Amy as you are about Jo.

What’s definitely modern about this version is Gerwig’s let’s-get-on-with-it pace, which could maybe use a breather or two for atmosphere. But generally, this is an interesting take on unbeatable material, a portrait of the artist as a young woman.

“Little Women” (3½ stars)

The Louisa May Alcott novel gets another adaptation, as writer-director Greta Gerwig emphasizes Jo (the peerless Saorise Ronan) and her development as a writer. The movie gives a splendid showcase to a wonderful cast, including Timothee Chalamet, Emma Watson and the scene-stealing Florence Pugh.

Rating: PG, for subject matter

Showing: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

Talk to us

More in Life

This image provided by Higgins Design Studio shows an open Murphy bed. (Mentis Photography/Higgins Design Studio via AP)
Pandemic-era design solution from the past: the Murphy bed

The beds that emerge from a wall to instantly transform a living room into a bedroom date from more than a century ago.

R.J. Whitlow, co-owner of 5 Rights Brewery, has recently expanded to the neighboring shop, formerly Carr's Hardware. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
County craft breweries’ past lives: hardware store, jail

Most breweries in Snohomish County operate in spaces that formerly housed something far different — from boat builders to banks.

Red apples with leaves isolated over white background. Gala apple. Top view
Everything you never wanted to know about fruit tree pollination

If your trees are blooming and not setting fruit, the most likely culprit is poor pollination.

Cryptomeria japonica “Sekkan-sugi”
Great Plant Pick: Cryptomeria japonica “Sekkan-sugi”

If you love golden foliage, the golden Japanese cedar is for you. When planted against a dark green backdrop, it shines like a beacon.

Moving eyes add interest to an antique clock. This blinking-owl clock sold for $1,900 at a Morford's auction in 2021.
These antique clocks have shifty eyes that move with time

More modern moving-eye clocks include the Kit-Cat clock, a fixture in nurseries since 1932.

Heroes.jpg: Characters in the fantasy world in “She Kills Monsters” at Red Curtain Arts Center, running Jan. 28-Feb. 13, include (front row) Erin Smith as Lilith, Katelynn Carlson as Kaliope; (middle row) Marina Pierce as Tillius, Lucy Johnson as Agnes; (back row) Daniel Hanlon as Orcus.
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Dungeons & Dragons collides with reality in “She Kills Monsters” at Red Curtain Arts Center in Marysville.

Caption: Stay-at-home parents work up to 126 hours a week. Their labor is valuable even without a paycheck.
A mother’s time is not ‘free’ — and they put in 126-hour workweeks

If you were to pay a stay-at-home mom or dad for their time, it would cost nearly $200,000 a year.

Linda Miller Nicholson from Fall City, Washington, holds up rainbow pasta she just made in the commercial kitchen at her Fall City home, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021.  The rainbow wall behind her is in her backyard. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle TImes/TNS)
This King County woman’s rainbow pasta signals her values

Linda Miller Nicholson sculpts colorful noodles that reflect her personality and pro-LGBTQ+ pride.

CloZee performs during the second day of Summer Meltdown on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in Darrington, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The psychedelic fest Summer Meltdown is back — and in Monroe

The music and camping event is on for July 28-31, with a new venue along the Skykomish River.

Most Read