Certainly I would never say director Greta Gerwig has improved on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, but while there have been very good film adaptations of the novel before, Gerwig has found a way to enhance it such that this may be the best possible movie of Little Women.
Alcott’s much-loved tale of the March sisters was originally published in two volumes, with the second taking place a few years after the first. But rather than simply tell the first part, then jump ahead to the second, Gerwig crosscuts between the two, juxtaposing the earlier, rather wide-eyed years with the difficulties and tensions life can bring as we grow older. It’s a brilliant move, taking advantage of movies' unique ability to play with time, and bringing out emotional layers that may have always been there, but that are now set in a different light.
What’s more, as Little Women is at least semi-autobiographical, Gerwig frames the movie so that Jo March, the writer in the group, is a stand-in for Alcott herself, which lets the director give Alcott the ending she likely always wanted.
Gerwig also directed 2017’s Lady Bird, and while that film and Little Women are not alike in style, they do share a commitment to emotional honesty that gives them the feel of real life. These are good people doing their best, loving each other even through their mistakes, and that love emanates from the movie through the performances of every member of the exceptional cast and the exceedingly elegant photography.
We do love space wizards and super heroes, fast cars and dashing spies, but stories of real people living their lives, simply showing us what it means to be a person, those are the real treasures. There’s a good reason Little Women has endured over the past 150 years, and the fact Gerwig has found a way to bring something so loved, so iconic, to even greater life is a treasure all its own.