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Little Women

In Brief: The original chick flick makes another big screen appearance and it’s a good one.

Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 book was written for women with an emphasis on girlhood. She also wrote Little Men in 1871 and one called Jo’s Boys in 1886. The titles say male but — while I haven’t read them — I’m assuming they, too, have a female audience focus.

Alcott’s book became so popular that it made Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth household names.

The story has been on TV several times, ended up as a Broadway play, a ballet and an opera but — other than the book — the most popular outlet for Alcott’s story has been the movies. When motion pictures came along in the early 1900s Little Women was a natural. It hit the big screen in 1917 and again in 1918 and might have been the first ever chick flick.

Most popular — until now — has been the 1949 version with June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh, Margaret O’Brien and Peter Lawford. We were treated to a less than memorable treatment in 1994 with Wynona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Clare Danes and Christian Bale.

I didn’t read Little Women. Most boys didn’t and neither have most men. What I have done is see the movies from 1949 and 1994. Sadly, other than the star power in both, I don’t remember much about them but I don’t think I’m going to forget Greta Gerwig’s version.

It’s fabulous.

Most of you already know the characters. Jo is a 19th century feminist. Meg longs for the finer things in life, Amy gets them and Beth dies. Mom is gone a lot and so is dad. Finances are tough. Kindly rich people dot the plot landscape.

Saoirse Ronan is amazing as Jo. A Gerwig favorite, Ronan starred in, and got Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Gerwig’s Lady Bird and picked up one this year for this performance. To say she’s good is an understatement but Ronan is one of those actresses that makes every movie she’s in better.

Ronan does Jo like she’s in a ballet. She dances through the part as a tough, smart, totally together young woman but at the same time Jo is completely unsure and insecure. It’s a perfect balance.

Part of Ronan’s success comes from a wonderful supporting cast.

Emma Watson plays Meg. As she did in the most excellent Beauty and the Beast, Watson is the perfect lady. The most beautiful of the four sisters, Meg deeply longs for the social graces of the very rich.

Florence Pugh shines as Amy who ends up rich and Eliza Scanlen is the doomed to die Beth. Timothee Chalamet plays Laurie. Laura Dern is very understanding and motherly as Marmee and Meryl Streep plays Aunt March. No one can toss off look-down-your-nose, rich lady lines better than Streep and several of her lines are the best parts of the movie.

The real star, however, is Gerwig. Her economical, but beautifully written script coaches very good performances out of a solid cast. She’s also a very good director whose storytelling skill makes a long movie seem not so long. Gerwig also manages to turn what really is a chick flick into something even a guy — if forced to sit down and watch it — can like.

By the way, Gerwig’s next project is Barbie with Margo Robbie in the title role. Can’t wait for that one.

Director: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothee Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton

Rated PG for mature themes. Louisa May Alcott’s classic story has been in movies and on TV a lot. This may be the best version of them all.

Click here for theaters and show times.

Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.

He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.

 



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