Little Women brings modern feminism to a familiar story

Gerwig's adaptation proves Alcott's novel is a tale worth retelling

Little Women is a testament to why stories about women deserve to be told by women.
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2019 was the year of movie reboots, remakes, and questionable sequels. In a renaissance of retreading familiar stories in film, Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women proves that some stories do deserve to be retold.

There’s certainly no shortage of adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women, but Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film is easily the most impactful for modern audiences.

Interwoven with events inspired by Alcott’s life, Gerwig, the film’s writer and director, brings a new perspective to the familiar story of sisters Amy, Beth, Meg, and Jo March. Little Women has always been a relatable story about the particularities of female experiences, but its relevance has never been more apparent than it is in Gerwig’s retelling.

The film maintains the historical charm of the novel, but brings a contemporary punch to the narrative. It brings the feminist undertones of the original story to the forefront, balancing its setting with commentary about gender that’s strikingly relevant.

Although the story is set in the mid-nineteenth century, the March sisters’ trials, burdens, and aspirations resonate with a modern audience. Meg struggles with the sacrifices that come with raising a family; Beth’s kindness is unwavering in the face of personal struggle; Amy’s ambition to leave her mark is a force to be reckoned with; Jo fights for her voice to be heard as a writer in a discipline dominated by men.

Even if you don’t want to be a writer or a painter and you’ve never travelled to New York or Paris like Jo and Amy, there’s something familiar in the lives of the March sisters. Their battles and triumphs may seem mundane, but they’re still important. Jo’s frustration at being told what a woman can and can’t do is tangible. It’s all the more powerful because it articulates an experience that’s all too common among the film’s female audience.

Far too often, films about women miss their mark. 2019 saw a record number of female directors behind the scenes of the year’s top-grossing movies, and as a result, movies like Little Women were able to convey a female experience that feels genuine and honest.

Brought to life by a phenomenally talented cast, including Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, and Florence Pugh, the March sisters aren’t perfect heroines—they’re flawed, and they frequently make mistakes. They fight, make irrational decisions, and question who they are and what they stand for. They subvert the idea of the ideal female protagonist who must effortlessly balance personal aspirations with the societal burden of being a woman. The March sisters represent realistic women who are long overdue representation onscreen. Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth aren’t polite, reserved, and downtrodden: they’re alternatingly angry, burdened, giddy, and determined.

Gerwig’s Little Women isn’t a romance, or a coming-of-age tale, or a didactic lecture on what women should aspire to be. Instead, it’s a sharp, unapologetic portrayal of the highs and lows of womanhood, and the barriers that women faced in the past—and still face—in their careers and personal lives.

The film is far from a bland retelling of a novel you might expect to encounter in a high school English class. It captures the vibrant, unapologetic, feminist spirit of the author who penned the original novel. Above all else, it’s a testament to why stories about women deserve to be told by women.

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