In The Shadow Of Adaptation: Little Women

I’ve been joking around about how every angry nerd bro was about to get their revenge from me, as Greta Gerwig’s Little Women was announcing. If this movie wasn’t good, I was going to scream and yell and throw things. I was going to CREATE A YOUTUBE channel just to make videos dismantling the movie. I was going to every single time any cast member came up change the subject to how Little Women was crappy.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is my favorite book ever. I read it every few years, most recently, two weeks ago, and I find something special and new in it each time I read it. I’ve built my personality around The March sisters. I love it so much. I’d heard it was good, I’d heard the ending was “controversial.” (It shouldn’t be, Gerwig figured out how to fix the ending of Little Women to have her cake and eat it too, and it’s genius. I sat down in the theater and crossed my arms, saying, “OK, show me.”

I was shown. The choices that Gerwig made are clear and concise, choosing to move between the timelines of the parts of the story really worked for me. So many adaptations of Little Women are top heavy, leaning on the childhood portions and leaving the grown up portions bereft (Beth’s death is the exception.) But here, begining with Jo’s return to Concord when Beth’s sickness develops and Amy and Laurie’s reconnection in France, and moving through their memories from there let’s each story breathe. Meg still gets short shrift, which is a shame. I hope someone delves into her dreams of a happy married life and the way she struggles a bit more some day. This did more with it than the 1994 version, so we’re getting somewhere, but still.

I’m in love with this movie. It’s a wonderful adaptation, I love the cast. I am obsessed with Florence Pugh, but mostly I just love that it felt right. As teenagers, the characters felt like teenagers. Their emotions felt true, the barely contained chaos of the March house felt like home.

Let’s talk about the ending, if you’re new to Little Women, because of this movie, welcome, come inside. I’ve made some blanc mange but I swear I used sugar not salt! Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women as a lightly fictionalized (very lightly) version of her childhood. Famously, she only married Joe to Freidrich Bhaer at her editor’s insistence, Alcott herself never married, and she didn’t want Jo to. Gerwig takes this fact and makes Jo’s actual fate ambiguous. We see her argue the ending with her editor writing, “Under The Umbrella” where Jo and Bhaer agree to marry, in real time. But we also see Jo’s school at Plumfield, and Friedrich is there, so which is it? The choose your own aspect is wonderful. 

I have a lot of feelings about this movie, about Little Women in general, and about how to adapt older work, about feminism in this story, about female characters, and I’m very happy to point to this movie forever and say, “Look at Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, just DO THAT!”

I think I’m going to continue this sporadic feature. I don’t know if any books that I love a lot are getting high profile adaptations this year off the top of my head, but I’m sure there’ll be at least a few. It was really rewarding rereading Watchmen, His Dark Materials and Little Women. (I still have to finish HBO’s His Dark Materials, which…probably speaks to how I feel about that adaptation) we shall see.

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