Little Women is timeless. I already look forward to watching this movie ten years from now, and reflecting on the Yan who watched this movie at 25, thinking about the world ahead of him. Because that is what this movie is about, the promises we make to our younger selves, the futures we thought we would live, and whether we can live up to the dreams of our childhood. Somehow, Greta Gerwig managed to make a time capsule of a novel that is more than a century old.
At one moment in the film, Meg says to her proud sister Jo, “Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn't mean they're unimportant”. This is an ethos Gerwig commits to throughout the film, as every sister is treated with the same humanity and empathy, despite their diverging paths.
Womanhood in the movie has many tracks in Little Women, epitomized by each sisters’ different goals. Jo wants to make a name for herself, Meg wants a family, Amy luxury, and Beth peace. This would be simplistic if it were true. But as they grow, each of the sister’s dreams shift, affected by each other’s lives and the evolving journey they are on together. The sisters don’t just grow up, they grow up with each other, a profound process to witness.
This growth is made real by the casts’ stellar performances. The chemistry between the sisters is infectious; every scene where the four sisters are together is irresistibly delightful and moving. But to focus on the ensemble neglects the captivating performances by each actor, who do not let a single moment go to waste. Saoirse Ronan has cemented herself as one of the best of her generation, charting the path of ambitious and inventive Jo March as she goes from crafting plays for her sisters to a fully fledged novelist. Florence Pugh’s Amy is often agonizing to watch, only because we understand her insecurities and pain so well. And though not one of the titular women, Timothée Chalamet does not let even a single step slide as a missed opportunity, giving Laurie an idiosyncratic bouncing gait that captures the character’s entire attitude. This is all without even mentioning Chris Cooper’s stoic Mr Laurence, Laura Dern’s joyful Marmee, Louis Garrel’s charming Friedrich, or the many other joyful and compelling performances in this film.
Gerwig’s adaptation gives every character a full interior world, which we are given glimpses into as facades crack and hearts break. And in them, we see ourselves, the paths we have trodden and the dreams we have chosen. Perhaps it is a testament to my ego that Little Women, a film about 19th century women in the USA, felt like a film that spoke for me. Or perhaps, it says something about the level of empathy Gerwig built into these characters and their stories. Their stories will always resonate because children will always grow up to be confronted by an unforgiving adult world. And like the March sisters, they will have to choose how to make their way through this world and to which version of themselves they want to be most honest to. And whether that world is 19th century USA, or modern-day Singapore, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is going to ring true.