Why we absolutely needed another Little Women after all

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is the seventh big-screen take on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, but it turns out we really needed to see this story again after all.

Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women has been adapted many times since its original publication in 1868. It’s been turned into a feature film seven times, and has spawned just as many television adaptations, including a 2018 version that aired on PBS’ Masterpiece. It’s been turned into stage versions and musicals, and even an opera.

So, with all that already out there…did we really need another take on this story?

The answer actually turns out to be, absolutely.

Trust me, I’m as kind of surprised as anyone. I grew up on the 1994 version of Little Women, which featured Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon. I didn’t think I needed anything else from this story beyond what that version has to offer. Happily, it turns out I was very wrong.

Director Greta Gerwig’s new film digs into Alcott’s classic tale of four sisters in new ways, making the classic story feel relevant and meaningful for a modern audience. (Who doesn’t sympathize with Jo attempting to succeed in a male-dominated industry?) But it also lets us see these characters in new ways. Particularly one that many (probably most?) of us have never really cared for.

Amy March has often been treated a footnote in her sisters’ stories, the selfish, bratty sibling who burns her sister’s writing and ends up with boy we all think belongs with Jo. It’s not hard to admit that most of us spend any variation of Little Women disliking, if not outright hating, Amy.

Except in this one.

The most interesting part of Gerwig’s Little Women isn’t her modern, feisty Jo (though star Saoirse Ronan is wonderful). It’s her thoughtful, layered take on Amy, which finally gives the character the nuance that many previous interpretations have not. Here, she’s complex and complicated, a character that encompasses both carefree youth and thoughtful maturity.

It’s Amy who understands – as Jo, perhaps does not – that sometimes we must bend to secure our futures, and that compromise is often necessary, but not necessarily evil. It’s Amy who decides her own fate, for once – in this version of the story, she has plenty of agency and control. She chooses to give up her art, she decides that marrying rich is in her best interest, and she repeatedly and decisively puts herself first in a way that we’ve never been allowed to see before. Amy March is, finally, allowed to be the architect of her own future – and for once, the story acknowledges that her path is just as deliberate and desirable as Jo’s is.

For all that this is the seventh time Little Women has come to the multiplex, this is the first on-screen interpretation that centers Amy so thoughtfully and decisively. In Gerwig’s world, this is not a character to be belittled, mocked or disliked, but one to be admired and loved, every bit as much as her other sisters are.

It’s oddly lovely to realize there are still rich veins of story to be mined in this classic novel that feels so familiar to all of us. That its seventh big-screen adaptation can still find interesting and necessary ways to place the story of the March girls in a new light is something worthy of celebration, and a reminder of why we tell these stories repeatedly.

Sometimes, it’s nice to be proven wrong, is all I’m saying. Long live, Little Women.

Next: Review: Little Women is beautiful, emotional, and utterly charming

Have you seen Little Women yet? What did you think of it?

 

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