How Little Women (2019) Captivated Audiences


Ruby Bernier, Social Media Editor

Little Women is one of the most widely known, read, and liked classic novels, written by Louisa May Alcott in 1868. There are 6 feature film adaptations along with several for television. The most recent version, directed by Greta Gerwig, was released in December of last year with a cast full of stars, including Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, Saoirse Ronan and Meryl Streep. With an average score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and six Academy Award nominations (including best picture), this film was clearly deemed one of the top of the year. 

Little Women follows the March family sisters; Jo, Amy, Meg, and Beth. It depicts the lives and struggles of the sisters as they grow up and become adults. Jo takes the center stage as the story follows her deep love for writing and her struggle with sexism during the civil war era. With a strong will and loud personality, she desperately strives to be independent, unlike some of her sisters. While the book tells the story chronologically, the 2019 film switches between the past and present, showing the direct contrast between childhood and adult life. 

One major aspect that captured the attention of viewers was the change Gerwig made to the ending of the story. Since the source material was released, it’s been widely thought that Louisa May Alcott had changed the ending due to pressures from her publishers. This ending involves Jo marrying a professor she met while writing in New York as an adult, despite her opposition to marriage throughout the entirety of the novel. Gerwig took this speculation and made it part of the story itself, having Jo (Saoirse Ronan) take her novel (which tells the story of Little Women) to a publisher who then tells her that the main character must marry. After this, the plot changes to show Jo marrying this professor, but presented with a humorous and rushed tone, signifying that Jo only wrote this ending and did not actually go through with it. 

This new version certainly appeals to a feminist crowd in 2020. The change to the conclusion signifies this, but so do the character development changes. Gerwig goes more into depth into each girl as opposed to only giving Jo true depth. As beautifully described in the New York Times article “This is ‘Little Women’ for a New Era”; Beth’s (Eliza Scanlen) motivation is music, Amy (Florence Pugh) strives for greatness either in her career or in marriage, and Meg (Emma Watson) follows her heart and marries who she loves despite financial insecurity. Previous adaptations made the girls transition to adulthood feel forced and unnatural, whereas the back and forth storytelling of the newest version shows how they grow to become who they are based on their motivations. With the first two movies being released in 1933 and 1948, the idea of traditional family values was very much still intact, and so the films reinforced this in their exploration of the girls’ fates. Video analysis “Comparing Every Version of Little Women ” goes into depth about how each film played into the norm of the time period, 2019 being no exception. American culture is shifting to favor films with independent women, and so naturally, the film reflects this ideal.

Aside from discussion about the plot, the media has also been talking about awards being given to this film and its actors. The movie has grossed 25 nominations from organizations such as the Academy Awards, BAFTAs, and Critics Choice Awards. It’s won six of these acclaims; two to Laura Dern for supporting actress performance, two to Greta Gerwig for directing and adapted screenplay respectively, two to Jacqueline Durran for costume design, and one to Saoirse Ronan for lead actress performance. Among all these wins and nominations, one key recognition is missing; Greta Gerwig for best director at the Academy Awards. Every film nominated for best director was also nominated for best picture, a nomination Little Women also received. However, Gerwig was not included in the best director category, despite her hard work and passion that is evident in every scene of the film. It’s also notable to mention that every nominated director is male, and every best picture nominee apart from Little Women was directed by a man. In recent years, the voice of women in film has increased, but their recognition for their hard work stays minimal. “Women and the Oscars: What Is Going On?” eloquently describes this phenomenon. This video describes the budgets of female movies and how the nomination and voting process is skewed to a predominantly white and predominantly male audience, making the same types of stories become award season winners each year. While Little Women was directed by and features white women, Gerwig’s snub still symbolizes the overlooking of all women in the Academy Awards. 

Despite this professional oversight of an outstanding directing job, the passion Greta Gerwig put into this film makes for an emotional watch and a deep understanding of the story. The performances by the actors are not to go without mention. Saoirse Ronan’s interpretation of Jo is incredibly authentic and brings you straight into the character’s mind, her struggle is so apparent in every line spoken. Florence Pugh’s Amy is one unlike those who came before her, showing outstandingly the transition from a little girl to a woman who strives for personal success and fulfillment at any cost. The dedication of the cast and crew is what makes this film what it is; a moving tale about the hardships of women which has been able to be beautifully altered to remain increasingly important after 150 years.