Louisa May Alcott's classic 1868 novel Little Women makes another trip to the big screen at the hands of writer-director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird). The new adaptation makes for a worthwhile journey back to the material for those familiar with it and a worthwhile entry into the material for those unfamiliar with it.
Saoirse Ronan plays Jo March, one of four March sisters (the others are played by Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen). Jo is a feisty, aspiring writer who struggles against some of the expectations placed on her by society. Along the way, she forms a bond with her neighbor (Timothee Chalamet).
Like the book itself, Little Women relies more on its characters and their relationships than plot to keep viewers engaged. Thankfully, it succeeds on that front. Alcott clearly loved her characters and Gerwig captures that warmth and sincerity in her screenplay.
Ronan, as she did in Lady Bird and Brooklyn, does a terrific job of playing the lead. Jo's easy to root for, but Ronan does not shy away from Jo's less likable moments, either. The supporting cast is top-notch, too: Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper all make indelible impressions.
For those who have seen Gillian Armstrong's excellent 1994 version starring Winona Ryder, there are of course some basic similarities, but Gerwig has made enough changes that this film doesn't feel like simply a regurgitation of the previous movie. The chronology is often different, as this rendition frequently jumps back and forth in time. There are moments when that technique is successful, but others where it might be a tad confusing for those who don't know the basic story.
Ultimately, there's a reason Little Women has endured for centuries: it's a powerful story with believably human characters. That's true of its latest cinematic adaptation, too.