Greta Gerwig's adaptation of Little Women may have emerged as an Oscars frontrunner, at least if the highly positive reviews are anything to go by.
The Lady Bird filmmaker adapts Louisa May Alcott's classic 1868 novel, which focuses on the trials and tribulations of the March sisters and draws on several aspects from Alcott's own life.
Saoirse Ronan plays the headstrong Jo, an aspiring writer and the stand-in for Alcott herself. Florence Pugh is the artistic Amy, Eliza Scanlen is the physically frail Beth and Emma Watson is eldest sibling Meg. Joining them are Timothee Chalamet as next door neighbour Laurie, Laura Dern as mother Marmee and Meryl Streep as the severe Aunt March.
It's a formidable cast, all of whom are working with richly emotional source material that's already been adapted several times before. Critics say that Gerwig and her star-studded ensemble do a terrific job of injecting contemporary resonance into Alcott's influential and enduringly popular story.
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw graces the movie with a five-star review, and describes it as a "festive treat". He writes: "Gerwig’s Little Women have a great collective vitality, always puppyishly hugging and crowding around, while getting into scrapes and putting on theatre shows. They have something of the Brontë sisters or even the Dashwood sisters but with a much more rough-and-ready Americanness."
Vulture's Alison Willmore said the film "feels, exhilaratingly, like the throwing down of a gauntlet". She adds: "It doesn't just brim with life, it brims with ideas about happiness, economic realities, and what it means to push against or to hew to the expectations laid out for one's gender".
"This is a film in love with its characters' passions, a rich and effortlessly vibrant examination of the four March "little women" and the ways... they're practically bursting with the innocent it's-happening-right-now joy of being young and alive," raves Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.
Boldly, Gerwig has scrambled the timeline of the original text, zipping back and forth between the March sisters in adulthood and their younger, more impressionable selves. It's an approach that results in another five-star review, this time from Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out. "If this isn’t the Little Women you remember, either on page or screen, that’s understandable. But it’s likely the one you felt, and that’s more important.
"Gerwig, who should be celebrated as both an evolving screenwriter (the bold adaptation is hers) and a shrewd formal stylist, cuts to the thematic essence of the novel—sisterhood and coming of age, but also nostalgia and mourning your own past—and finds a visual language for it. Alcott’s saga of the four March sisters has been divided and restitched by Gerwig into two interwoven halves.
Writing for the New York Post, critic Sara Stewart reserves praise for Florence Pugh. "Perhaps the most radical part of Gerwig’s Little Women is its reimagining and elevating of Amy, the sister usually depicted as vain, shallow and sometimes downright villainous.
"Husky-voiced Pugh plays her as an ambitious artist and shrewd thinker — with a streak of mischief and vengeance — and a substantial person in her own right. Her feelings on marriage, which also appear to have come more from Alcott than the novel, reflect an Austenian savviness about financial security rather than just a desire to be adored and protected."
Nevertheless, the restructuring of the novel doesn't work for everyone. Variety journalist Richard Lawson writes that Gerwig is "too concerned with cramming in every plot beat from her source material". Yet despite the film's flaws, he describes it as a "lovely experience".
Perhaps the biggest stamp of approval comes from director Gillian Armstrong, who helmed the 1994 adaptation starring Winona Ryder. It's widely considered the best and most popular of all the adaptations of Little Women, so Armstrong's praise for Gerwig's vision clearly doesn't come lightly.
Plucked up courage and saw the new Little Women. And loved it. Very different!— Gillian Armstrong (@big_pix) November 26, 2019
Brave new structure. Fantastic cast. And yes the message sadly needs to be stronger for this generation. Hopefully now men will see and vote.#gretaforoscar