Another month, another classic of literature that I have absolutely no prior knowledge of (beyond its existence and general adoration). Well, Little Women is certainly a lot more grounded in reality than other recent watches, but it does so in an incredibly earnest and heartfelt way that helps build out its world well. The central cast are all brilliant, from the seasoned likes of Meryl Streep and Laura Dern to the brilliant youngsters that will one day take their crowns: Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, and Emma Watson. The fourth sister, Eliza Scanlen's Beth, is perfectly well played, but a little lacking in character to really stand out in the same way. To Watson's credit, the same could be said doubly so for Meg, and yet her place in the family is immediately apparent and her arc a heartwarming, simple one which I enjoyed.
From a plot perspective, once again we're following a story being written as it's being shown, albeit a deeply human one. Elements of that tale are actually autobiographical as well, I later discovered, so layers on layers is very much the nature of goings-on. Despite that, and despite the film's decision to show the story from a split chronological perspective, jumping back and forward in time constantly, it's largely easy to understand what's happening when and to whom. I did find the lack of initial character setup a little confusing for the first 20minutes or so, and there were a few moments when time skips caught me off guard, but overall it's handled well.
Only at the very end, as we cut back and forth between Jo and her publisher arguing about whether she should marry the life interest or not, does that "writer writing their story" gimmick really take shape, and in this brief instance, it works well enough. On the other hand, certain elements of the characters never get that rounded out. The men are worst hit by this (a fact that feels deliberately done with a sense of irony that I can get behind) but even the women are often moved by the plot, rather than moving it themselves, which can feel a bit of a shame. The way the concept of "love" is handled throughout left me a little worried for Amy and her sudden betrothal, and I'm not sure Jo had done enough to feel like her 180 on marriage makes much sense in hindsight, but at the time I felt the ending was fitting. Certainly, it feels right that the real heartwarming moment is that Jo's book is a massive success and that she is able to open a mixed school, rather than some typical rom-com happy ending.
On the other hand, ultimately a story about upper-class women still feels more than a little out of touch, and the conclusions that career and love are important blunts the otherwise progressive narrative a little. Still, I enjoyed the story as it unfolded and whilst I have no immediate need to dive back in, there is much more substance here than in other adaptations of classical fiction I've seen lately.