Good performances 4 Stars

Greta Gerwig’s recent adaptation of Little Women is a different enough take on the material, but Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version is still the superior version.

Little Women (2019)
Released: 25 Dec 2019
Rated: PG
Runtime: 135 min
Director: Greta Gerwig
Genre: Drama, Romance
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen
Writer(s): Greta Gerwig, Louisa May Alcott (based on the novel by)
Plot: Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) reflects back and forth on her life, telling the beloved story of the March sisters - four young women each determined to live life on her own terms.
IMDB rating: 8.0
MetaScore: 91

Disc Information
Studio: Sony
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English Descriptive Audio, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: PG
Run Time: 2 Hr. 15 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Case Type: 2-disc Blu-ray keepcase with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: ABC
Release Date: 04/07/2020
MSRP: $34.99

The Production: 3.5/5

Note: Due to the similarities, I have included the history and synopsis portion from my review of Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 adaptation.

Louisa May Alcott’s 1868/1869 novel (originally published in two volumes) Little Women, with its portrayal of strong female role models, was definitely ahead of its time, which may account for its popularity both then and now. It has been adapted for various forms of media several times, including movies (seven at last count), numerous TV adaptations, stage musical, opera, and even as a radio drama.

Little Women tells the story of four sisters living at home with their mother near the end of the Civil War in Concord, Massachusetts. Living in near poverty as their father is off to war, eldest daughter Meg teaches a family of four children while Jo keeps her wealthy great-aunt company, often reading to her in the afternoon. Their next door neighbor, a young man named Laurie has just returned from his mother’s home in Italy to live with his grandfather while being tutored by John Brooke. Meg takes an instant liking to John, while Laurie becomes friends with Jo, who sees him more like a brother and invites him to perform in the plays they perform for themselves in the attic. As they grow older, Meg marries John, Laurie goes off to college, and Jo moves to New York as a tutor to two children, writing short stories that are published in the newspaper. The sisters are reunited when middle sister Beth finally succumbs to the after effects of contracting scarlet fever as a child taking a toll on her health, and Jo learns that her novel, Little Women, is about to be published after German professor Bhaer who lived at the same boarding house as her (and took a liking to her) showed the manuscript to a friend of his.

Writer/Director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) tells Alcott’s story in a very non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth in time (often within a scene). It can be a confusing back and forth if it weren’t for cinematographer Yorick Le Saux’s warmer tones for earlier periods and cooler tones for the later or more present times, but even then, those tonal differences are sometimes too subtle. I found the performances of Saoirse Ronan as Jo and Timothée Chalamet as Laurie to be a bit too modern for a movie set in the mid 19th century, particularly when they first meet at the dance early on. Much like Armstrong’s adaptation, Gerwig has assembled a talented cast, including Emma Watson (Meg), Florence Pugh (Amy), Laura Dern (Marmee), Meryl Streep (Aunt March), Bob Odenkirk (Father March), and Chris Cooper (Mr. Laurence). But Gerwig seems to be trying too hard to distinguish her adaptation from the many other film and television versions available, bookending her film with a meeting in the publisher’s office with Jo trying to sell her stories, with the final scene being more of a statement than concluding the film.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Little Women was shot on 35mm film and completed as a 4K digital intermediate in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Vision HDR for its premium engagements. Sony has opted to forego (at this time) a 4K UHD physical media release (it is available in 4K with HDR on digital), instead releasing the film on Blu-ray. The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is quite gorgeous, with natural and organic film grain that is present but never distracting. Colors are natural and vivid, even with the warmish yellow and cooler blue tones to differentiate time periods, never appearing overly saturated. Detail is very good, capturing the period fabric textures and set design. Contrast is also excellent, with deep blacks that show no signs of crush and bright whites with no obvious blooming. I also noticed no compression artifacts whatsoever.

Audio: 4.5/5

Little Women was released theatrically with a Dolby Atmos track. Since Sony has a policy of only issuing Atmos tracks on its 4K releases, all we get here is a very good DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Although this is a drama, surrounds are used quite extensively with then use of atmospheric effects like weather, birds singing, etc. The score by Alexandre Desplat wraps around the listener, assisting in immersing the viewer. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout with excellent prioritization, as one would expect for a drama.

Special Features: 3/5

A New Generation of “Little Women” (1080p; 12:52): The cast and crew discuss making the film geared more for a 21st century audience, bringing in some of Alcott’s real life in the role of Jo, and the various characters and portrayals.

Making a Modern Classic (1080p; 9:02): A look at the film’s production design and making the film in general.

Greta Gerwig: Women Making Art (1080p; 9:22): Gerwig discusses her personal connection with the source material, with some assistance from producer Amy Pascal and actresses Laura Dern and Meryl Streep.

Hair & Make-up Test Sequence (1080p; 2:58): As the title suggests, this is several test shots of the cast in hair and make-up under normal lighting conditions.

Little Women Behind the Scenes (1080p; 3:25): EPK behind the scenes piece that feels like something shown during the pre-show at movie theaters.

Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott (1080p; 10:07): A tour and discussion of the author’s house in Concord, Massachusetts, hosted by the historic site’s Executive Director Jan Turnquist.

DVD Copy: The movie in 480p and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, plus all of the special features listed above.

Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy on Movies Anywhere.

Overall: 4/5

Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women is a beautifully made movie, but tries too hard to differentiate itself from the numerous other productions.

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Todd Erwin

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Jake Lipson

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Thanks for your work on this review, Todd.

I loved the movie and am looking forward to adding it to my collection next week.

It's a shame there's no commentary, because it seems like Gerwig would have a lot to discuss here, and I thought her earlier commentary on Lady Bird was a great listen.
 

noel aguirre

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Can we get a musical version next? We don’t have enough versions of this story. Do I really have to wait 10 more years for the millennial version?
 

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Can we get a musical version next? We don’t have enough versions of this story. Do I really have to wait 10 more years for the millennial version?
This is the "Millennial version"!

People seem to think Millennials are currently teens and college students. Nope:

"Researchers and popular media use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years, with 1981 to 1996 a widely accepted defining range for the generation."
 
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lark144

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Thanks Todd for the great review.

I agree with you. While I liked the film, I also had difficulty with the editing. Not necessarily because of the jumping around in terms of different time frames, but more the specific way in which these interpolations were shot and edited.

I went to the film expecting it to jump around a bit in time, as Greta Gerwig gave an interview in the "Times" before the film was released and talked about that. According to Ms. Gerwig, her editing scheme, of inserting actions into scenes that have already happened, or hadn't yet happened, was "multi-textual." I think what she meant was she wanted to use "Little Women" as a kind of open text, and place little visual footnotes in it along the way that she felt was important, where interactions and incidents had resonance beyond the plot. While I have no problem with this method in the abstract, the way it was used in "Little Women" pretty much ruined the film for me.

Let me explain why. For me, the strength of "Little Women" is in its view of a family unit, its growth and continuation in spite of tragedy. For that to work, you need a sense of continuity. You need to spend time with these characters and watch them grow, both as individuals and as a unit. The film does this occasionally, and when it does it's excellent. However, at critical moments, Ms. Gerwig cuts into the action with other moments from the past and future. She does this by repeating the exact same shots and the same camera movements and compositions for different moments in time. What this does is to pull a viewer out of the film and take away the emotional identification one is experiencing with the character. Also, by putting together a string of different moments with different emotions and different meanings for these characters that all looks the same in terms of the way the camera represents them, it drains these moments of narrative and emotional meaning.

In my opinion, that does real damage to Lousia May Alcott's vision of a community developing together over time, as well as an audience's knowledge and concern for the individual characters in the film, and what happens to them. For if all these things that happen are cut together and represented as if they are the same ( which they most definitely are not) then what difference does it make for an audience to spend time with these characters?

Now some of my favorite films, such as "Petulia" & "Performance" uses this cut-up method to show the continuity of different events over time and how an individual character reacts to this. However, the way this method is used in "Little Women" seems to create the opposite impression. It breaks continuity, and takes away the emotional and intentional meaning of what a character does. Anyway, that's my view. It's definitively worth seeing, but flawed.
 
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noel aguirre

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This is the "Millennial version"!

People seem to think Millennials are currently teens and college students. Nope:

"Researchers and popular media use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years, with 1981 to 1996 a widely accepted defining range for the generation."
I was thinking more in terms of Gerwig who is at the cusp. But ok if you say so and good we shouldn’t have another 25 years from now and not 2 when it was last done on BBC/PBS.
 

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Thanks Todd for the great review.

I agree with you. While I liked the film, I also had difficulty with the editing. Not necessarily because of the jumping around in terms of different time frames, but more the specific way in which these interpolations were shot and edited.

I went to the film expecting it to jump around a bit in time, as Greta Gerwig gave an interview in the "Times" before the film was released and talked about that. According to Ms. Gerwig, her editing scheme, of inserting actions into scenes that have already happened, or hadn't yet happened, was "multi-textual." I think what she meant was she wanted to use "Little Women" as a kind of open text, and place little visual footnotes in it along the way that she felt was important, where interactions and incidents had resonance beyond the plot. While I have no problem with this method in the abstract, the way it was used in "Little Women" pretty much ruined the film for me.

Let me explain why. For me, the strength of "Little Women" is in its view of a family unit, its growth and continuation in spite of tragedy. For that to work, you need a sense of continuity. You need to spend time with these characters and watch them grow, both as individuals and as a unit. The film does this occasionally, and when it does it's excellent. However, at critical moments, Ms. Gerwig cuts into the action with other moments from the past and future. She does this by repeating the exact same shots and the same camera movements and compositions for different moments in time. What this does is to pull a viewer out of the film and take away the emotional identification one is experiencing with the character. Also, by putting together a string of different moments with different emotions and different meanings for these characters that all looks the same in terms of the way the camera represents them, it drains these moments of narrative and emotional meaning.

In my opinion, that does real damage to Lousia May Alcott's vision of a community developing together over time, as well as an audience's knowledge and concern for the individual characters in the film, and what happens to them. For if all these things that happen are cut together and represented as if they are the same ( which they most definitely are not) then what difference does it make for an audience to spend time with these characters?

Now some of my favorite films, such as "Petulia" & "Performance" uses this cut-up method to show the continuity of different events over time and how an individual character reacts to this. However, the way this method is used in "Little Women" seems to create the opposite impression. It breaks continuity, and takes away the emotional and intentional meaning of what a character does. Anyway, that's my view. It's definitively worth seeing, but flawed.
In other words she’s no Jane Campion and this is no Portrait of a Lady.
 

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In other words she’s no Jane Campion and this is no Portrait of a Lady.
Actually, no. When she's not jumping around in time, it's pretty damn good. Greta Gerwig creates a wonderful sense of unity and warmth among the sisters, while also differentiating between the various characters. A lot of it is really good classical film making. Very moving and emotional. And visual. She spent a lot of effort working with the cinematographer to differentiate between scenes and characters by using lighting and lenses which comes across emotionally. The film is very lyrical; in an intuitive, interiorized fashion, where landscape is the stuff of dreams and aspirations, reminding me of "An Angel at my Table" . I never saw "The Portrait of a Lady" so I can't compare. Excellent ensemble acting. And I loved Saorise Ronan. Her Jo is thought expressed as movement, which I thought was very faithful to the novel. I didn't mind the contemporary aspects of her performance (while I was irritated by those aspects of her two beaus, especially Timothee Chalamet) as I think Jo is a very modern character. She experiences a conflict between her thoughts and feelings, as well as her vision of what the world should be and what it is, and writes to express a more perfect world, which I think is very up to the minute.
 
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Actually, no. When she's not jumping around in time, it's pretty damn good. Greta Gerwig creates a wonderful sense of unity and warmth among the sisters, while also differentiating between the various characters. A lot of it is really good classical film making. Very moving and emotional. And visual. She spent a lot of effort working with the cinematographer to differentiate between scenes and characters by using lighting and lenses which comes across emotionally. The film is very lyrical; in an intuitive, interiorized fashion, where landscape is the stuff of dreams and aspirations, reminding me of "An Angel at my Table" . I never saw "The Portrait of a Lady" so I can't compare. Excellent ensemble acting. And I loved Saorise Ronan. Her Jo is thought expressed as movement, which I thought was very faithful to the novel. I didn't mind the contemporary aspects of her performance (while I was irritated by those aspects of her two beaus, especially Timothee Chalamet) as I think Jo is a very modern character. She experiences a conflict between her thoughts and feelings, as well as her vision of what the world should be and what it is, and writes to express a more perfect world, which I think is very up to the minute.
Did you by any chance see the most recent BBC/PBS version from 2 years ago? Angela Lansbury is in it as Aunt March and I was just wondering if you had seen it.
 

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Did you by any chance see the most recent BBC/PBS version from 2 years ago? Angela Lansbury is in it as Aunt March and I was just wondering if you had seen it.
Unfortunately, no. I can't compare other versions. I'm basing my analysis on the book. I saw the Hepburn-Cukor version from the 1930's, but that's it. I would like to see the one with Winona Ryder, which everyone on this forum seems to love, but I haven't gotten around to it, as other discs have higher priority.
 

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Peg and I watched this last night.

We hated it.

Approaching a story such as this in a non-linear way just made no sense. Even though we've seen most (if not all) of the other film versions, we were left confused as we made our way through this version. We found it very confusing and off-putting despite a strong cast and gorgeous scenery. We did not, however, like Timothy Chalamet in the role of Lorrie. We didn't find him likeable at all and were left to wonder why any of the March girls would have found him so desirable.

We much prefer the 1994 version with Christian Bale, Ryder and the others.
 

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Peg and I watched this last night.

We hated it.

Approaching a story such as this in a non-linear way just made no sense. Even though we've seen most (if not all) of the other film versions, we were left confused as we made our way through this version. We found it very confusing and off-putting despite a strong cast and gorgeous scenery. We did not, however, like Timothy Chalamet in the role of Lorrie. We didn't find him likeable at all and were left to wonder why any of the March girls would have found him so desirable.

We much prefer the 1994 version with Christian Bale, Ryder and the others.
Mike,

Did you have any problem with the sisters being played by non-American actresses?
 

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Nope. Not at all. I thought for the most part, the four sisters were portrayed well. And I really liked Chris Cooper as Lorrey's grandfather in this version. Most of my complaint is with the storytelling. It was wretched.
 

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Peg and I watched this last night.

We hated it.

Approaching a story such as this in a non-linear way just made no sense. Even though we've seen most (if not all) of the other film versions, we were left confused as we made our way through this version. We found it very confusing and off-putting despite a strong cast and gorgeous scenery. We did not, however, like Timothy Chalamet in the role of Lorrie. We didn't find him likeable at all and were left to wonder why any of the March girls would have found him so desirable.

We much prefer the 1994 version with Christian Bale, Ryder and the others.
Yes - I also really dislike Timothy Chalamet - the only film I find him tolerable in was his very small role as the creepy boyfriend in Lady Bird. I saw him again in Woody Allen's A Rainy Day In New York earlier this week and he is immature and wooden. This version of Little Women might improve on a second viewing, when you are prepared for the flashbacks. However, you will still be irritated by Timothy Chalamet and no amount of Chris Cooper can make up for that!
 

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Approaching a story such as this in a non-linear way just made no sense.
I could not disagree more, Mike. I never thought the non-linear storytelling choices felt gratuitous, and in certain cases made scenes land far more powerfully -- one in particular, the intercutting of Beth getting really sick and recovering as a child and getting really sick and dying as an adult, just took my breath away.

Even though we've seen most (if not all) of the other film versions, we were left confused as we made our way through this version.
You're far from the only people to say this, so there's definitely something to this criticism. I personally never had any trouble following it. I thought the movie did a good job visually differentiating the different time periods, with different lighting and camera work, different set decoration, and different hair styles which taken together clue you in to where you are in the story.

The two timelines move linearly for the most part, so as long as you know whether you're in the past or in the "present", the storytelling is pretty straight forward.

We did not, however, like Timothy Chalamet in the role of Lorrie. We didn't find him likeable at all and were left to wonder why any of the March girls would have found him so desirable.
I think part of this is a result of this adaptation spending so much more time with Laurie and Amy in Europe, and quite early on. That's not a particularly likable period for the character.
 

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Thanks Todd for your excellent review. And thanks lark144 for your thoughts. Last night, I watched this new version on DVD including the six special features which ran about 47 minutes. Even though I liked this 2019 edition, I think the 1994 film is far superior and I'm going to be watching it again for comparison.
 

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I thought the movie did a good job visually differentiating the different time periods, with different lighting and camera work, different set decoration, and different hair styles which taken together clue you in to where you are in the story.
I see this in the exact opposite light, Adam. One of the great issues I had with jumping around in time was that I never knew when/where we were. I could never glean from any of those things you mentioned at what time point in the story we were.

With your comparison to This Is Us, it is always extremely clear where we are in the Pearson family timeline due to significant changes in makeup, vehicles, hair styles, clothing, and even the use of younger/older actors to play the same role. To me, the four March sisters almost always looked exactly the same age.

Total fail for us based on that one rather significant set of circumstances. As I said, even knowing the story so well, it was confusing. I can only imagine for viewers new to the material how utterly cataclysmic the experience must have been.

Someone in one of the other HTF threads on this film mentioned the scene with Amy falling through the ice and how the drama of it was undercut because she was seen earlier in the film in a scene which took place after that event. Well, besides that, the scene completely held no dramatic impact since she fell, she screamed, they skated to her, got a branch and pulled her out and we cut to an interior in which she was drying off. Yawn. I never felt she was truly in any peril. What was the point of even including that moment at that point?

Peg and I were also cold on Ladybird. I'd have to think back on what our problems were, but the best I can recollect is that it wasn't so much the performances but the story. I am left to believe that Gerwig's work is just not for us.