DRAMA; 2hr 15min
STARRING: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet
Women’s business: from left, Pugh, Watson, Ronan and Scanlen
A quickie recap for anyone not up to speed on the ageless phenom that is Little Women’s March sisters: Louisa May Alcott’s bird’s-eye 1868 novel, about the entwined lives and self-defining times of Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth, had already inspired six movies before firing the heart and mind of Lady Bird writer-director Greta Gerwig. And aren’t we all so jolly glad she went for it. The March girls are a group hug whose warmth encircles decades.
Gerwig’s buzzy charmfest begins in 1868 with the sisters scattered hither and yon (Ronan is Jo, Watson is Meg, Pugh is Amy and Scanlen is Beth), then dips back seven years to the Concord, Massachusetts, manse in which they famously scrapped and cavorted like a litter of puppies. While Alcott’s bones do the heavy lifting, with central matters of the heart that in part see Chalamet (as dreamboat-next-door Laurie Laurence) re-teaming with his Lady Bird co-star Ronan, Gerwig brings her own sense of oomph to the party. Bathing locations in buttery tones, she braids timelines with a chatty pep that keeps everybody busy. Jo flies the coop to New York. Amy takes off to Europe with vinegary Aunt March (Streep). Meg is the first to meet her mate in James Norton’s John Brooke, and poor Beth languishes as only 19th-century ladies can.
So here you have them one more time, burnished and unbowed. The sisters may be cash-strapped, what with Father March (Bob Odenkirk) doing his manly damnedest for the Civil War and steadfast Marmee (Dern) soldiering on at home, and the husband-or-bust consensus they face is crushing. But whatever conflicts they confront, their core strength, as ever, is rooted in ties that bind. And nowhere is that strength more evident here than in Ronan’s spiky square-peg writer Jo, Alcott’s own soul sister whose refusal to compromise in the disapproving face of perceived limitations is a rallying cry that continues to ring and ring.