Little Women Parent Guide
A confident, audacious remake of a literary classic, this version provides a rich exploration of its characters' inner lives.
Parent Movie Review
In a defiant moment in the latest film version of Little Women, Josephine March (Saoirse Ronan) asserts that “No one will forget Jo March.” She is absolutely correct - Josephine March has become an indelible part of America’s cultural landscape since Louisa May Alcott penned her beloved Civil War-era novel in 1868. Rebellious, literary Jo (Saoirse Ronan); conscientious, domestic Meg (Emma Watson), shy, tender Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and vain, artistic Amy (Florence Pugh) all sprang to life from Alcott’s pen and are embodied once again in a production as defiant as its most beloved character.
It can be a challenge to adapt a novel that is not just a classic but also a cultural touchstone. So why would director Greta Gerwig film Little Women for the umpteenth time? To look for “the thing underneath”, Gerwig states; to expose “all of these inappropriate emotions for young women to have”. This objective makes the 2019 production very different from the film adaptations that have gone before. Prioritizing buried emotions over narrative integrity comes at a cost: as the movie cuts back and forth through the March family’s timeline, some favorite episodes (Amy’s pickled limes, for instance) are given short shrift. And relationships like Meg’s with John Brooke (James Norton) and Jo’s with Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel) feel poorly developed. Moviegoers who haven’t read the book or watched other adaptations might find this film hard to follow.
The upside here is that the film successfully excavates the “inappropriate emotions” grappled with by the women in the March family. Rage, jealousy, loneliness, fear, rebelliousness, despair, fierce ambition – all of these share the screen with the girls’ love, devotion, selflessness, loyalty, creativity, and courage. This is a movie that richly explores the interior lives of women. Jo’s driving need to write and Amy’s deep desire to succeed as an artist can be understood by viewers of any era. But the constraints of custom, culture and law that fence in their ambition and diminish their potential create a rage and frustration that seethes throughout the film, sometimes underground, sometimes bursting forth in anger, tears, or implacable determination.
The movie also prioritizes the complex relationships between the sisters, often using flashbacks to emphasize repeated emotional connections. And any woman with sisters will relate to the moments of conflict, especially Jo’s visceral, violent attack when Amy burns her manuscript. There is a physicality to the girls’ emotions, just as there is to the film; the noise of boots on the stair, the crowded feel of a full room. This is not ethereal, rarefied period drama. These are real young women who live together, love each other, and, at times, hate each other.
The success of this film can be laid largely at the feet of Saoirse Ronan, whose performance of Jo March blazes with passion and life. Florence Pugh, however, is poorly cast as Amy, being too old to play a girl who is supposed to be 12 years old in the earliest flashbacks. And Amy’s more melodramatic behavior, while understandable in a tween girl, feels decidedly unhinged when played by a mature actress whose deep voice clearly indicates that she isn’t a child.
Casting problems aside, Little Women provides an uplifting moviegoing experience for anyone who likes period films and feel-good family entertainment. When Jo tries to dissuade Meg from getting married, she tells her that she’ll be bored with John in two years, but her sisters will be interesting forever. Here again, Jo has been prescient. The March sisters have never lost their fascination and this film introduces them to a new generation.Directed by Greta Gerwig. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, and Florence Pugh. Running time: 135 minutes. Theatrical release December 25, 2019. Updated December 19, 2019
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Rating & Content Info
Why is Little Women rated PG? Little Women is rated PG by the MPAA for thematic elements and brief smoking.
Violence: A woman’s skirt catches fire; she is unharmed. There are a few scenes of sisters fighting; throwing pillows, pushing, slapping, hitting etc. A main character burns her sister’s manuscript. A main character burns her own papers. A main character punches a young man on a few occasions. A main character talks about hanging himself and wishing he were dead. A main character tells another that she wanted to hurt her.
Sexual Content: There is a little bit of social kissing, and kisses are engaged between courting couples and spouses. A woman makes a coded reference to a brothel (“cat house”).
Profanity: Rare name calling or derogatory comments.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Main characters drink alcohol in social situations. A main character is shown intoxicated. Girls pretend to smoke empty pipes
Page last updated December 19, 2019
Little Women Parents' Guide
Do you identify with one of the March sisters? Which one? Why do you feel connected to her? Is she like you or is she someone you would like to have as a friend?
Why do you think Little Women has been so enduringly popular? What do you like about it?
Do you have a favorite version of Little Women? What do you like best about it? Do you like versions that stick faithfully to the original novel or do you like adaptations that reinterpret the plot? Why?
Director Greta Gerwig chose not to faithfully re-enact all the events of the novel. Instead, she said she wanted to excavate below the events of the story to capture the emotions underneath. Do you think she succeeded?
The New York Times: What Greta Gerwig Saw in “Little Women”: “Those Are My Girls” target=“_blank”>
For more information on Louisa May Alcott and her best loved novel, check out the links below.
Wikipedia: Louisa May Alcott
The Atlantic: The Lie of Little Women
The New Yorker: How “Little Women” Got Big
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has been a beloved classic for generations of girls. Read the original novel and its sequels, Good Wives, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys.
Alcott also wrote numerous other books for girls, including Eight Cousins, which features an orphan named Rose who winds up being raised by her uncle and surrounded by seven male cousins. It’s followed by a sequel, Rose in Bloom.
Alcott penned more melodramatic novels. The Inheritance, written by Alcott was referred to by Jo in Little Women. It’s set in an English country manor and follows the fate of Edith Adelon, a destitute orphan with an unexpected fate.
For novels about loving sisters, make sure to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.
Want to get your children excited about books with a strong family focus? Young readers who want stories about sisters will love Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona books. They will also enjoy Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family series.
Related home video titles:
The most popular movie adaptation of Little Women to date is the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, and Christian Bale. If you enjoy old fashioned classic films, there’s also a 1949 version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh.
The story of the March sisters has been brought into the 21st century with a Christian themed film released in 2018.
If you’re looking for a more detailed adaptation of the novel, you can turn to the BBC/Masterpiece Theater television miniseries produced in 2017.
For a lushly melodramatic civil war drama with a tortuous romance, check out Gone With the Wind. This movie classic features Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, stunning costumes, and lots of quotable lines.
If you’re looking for clean movies with loving sisters and romantic plots, check out the filmed versions of Jane Austen’s beloved novels. Pride and Prejudice revolves around five sisters and their marriage-obsessed mother. There’s also a Bollywood version entitled Bride and Prejudice set in India that reduces the number of sisters to four. Sense and Sensibility follows three impoverished sisters and the complicated romances of the oldest two.