Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet
Director: Greta Gerwig
Running Time: 134 mins
Little Women is an American film about the lives of four sisters as they come of age in post-Civil War society.
A visually elegant film through and through, and bolstered by a heartfelt, passionate eye for storytelling, Little Women is a thoroughly likable and ultimately captivating watch, ending on a real high. However, the journey to get to that finale is rather arduous, and with a haphazard, often incoherent narrative structure for the majority of its runtime, the film never really manages to grab you quite as strongly as it hopes to.
But before I get into that, let’s start with some of the things that work all the way through the movie, namely the performances. With an A-list cast featuring big names of all sorts, there’s no shortage of talent on screen in Little Women, and that talent shines through from beginning to end.
Saoirse Ronan is effortlessly lovable in the lead role, commanding respect with her character’s impressive determination and fervour for life on her own, and yet still with the innocence and insecurity to make her seem just like any other lost young adult struggling to really find her place in the world.
Alongside, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen are delightful as her sisters, each bringing unique and memorable characteristics to life in genuine and enjoyable style. The screenplay doesn’t quite nail down the four sisters’ individualities and quirks for a little while, but thanks to those excellent performances, it’s easy to see who the film’s main characters really are.
And with a number of excellent supporting turns from the likes of Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern and more, it’s difficult not to be wrapped up by the charisma and heart of Little Women, and all the more so when it’s all delivered with such clear passion and love by director Greta Gerwig.
While it has a modern consciousness, Gerwig gives Little Women the feel of a good old period drama, shying away from following current trends by bringing darker, more vulgar themes into the mix, and instead creating a visually gorgeous film with a wonderful beating heart. It may seem a little simple and weak in comparison to what we’re used to nowadays, and doesn’t quite have the power of comparable genre films of the past (namely Gone With The Wind), but there’s no denying that Little Women is a thoroughly enjoyable watch from beginning to end.
However, as enjoyably charismatic and full of heart as the film is, it really suffers for the majority of its duration due to a muddled screenplay, and a frustratingly misguided narrative structure.
At its core, the story is very simple – the lives of four young women as they grow up and come of age. Of course, there’s more at play under the surface, and the film in fact does a better job at telling the deeper stories than the main plot, but when it comes to that coming-of-age tale, Little Women proves an often disastrously messy watch.
Following a moderately non-linear structure that switches back and forth between the girls’ lives in the time of the Civil War and afterwards, the film aims to show the fleeting nature of childhood, and the natural passage of time as young women grow up. The problem, however, is that Little Women flicks between the two time periods so furiously that it’s very easy to get lost, and by the final act, I found myself constantly wondering what and when I was watching.
That’s partly symptomatic of not enough work being done to differentiate the time periods visually – just a bunch of different hairstyles seem to do – but it’s also a result of the screenplay’s inability to bring themes covering both time periods together in an effective manner.
The story looks at adolescence, young adulthood, personal independence, love and everything in between, and there are absolutely a number of links between the periods in which the women are younger and just a few years older. However, the film fails to set its story out in a coherent, thematic order, instead telling two wildly different stories at the same time, and never doing enough to make them connect with one another.
It’s only in the very final act that things do begin to tie up, and with a delightful and innovative finale, the film’s charisma and fervour for storytelling shine through once again, but it all comes after almost two hours of unnecessarily confusing and convoluted drama. Moving at a bizarrely frenetic pace throughout, and never taking a step back to let you know where all the players are in their lives at whatever point in time, it’s very easy to get lost with Little Women, and a whole lot harder to find your way back in.
Overall, I still rather liked Little Women. With effortless charisma, gorgeous visuals, passionate directing and delightful performances across the board, it’s difficult not to love, but its muddled narrative and messy structure do work against it significantly, proving a major point of frustration and confusion throughout, so that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4.