I’ve visited Concord, Massachusetts, and stood outside Orchard House, the home where Louisa May Alcott grew up with her three sisters. Somewhere I still have a snapshot of me standing there in front of the two-story farmhouse.
Louisa May Alcott used this homeplace as the setting for her best-known novel, “Little Women.” It follows the lives of the four March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — marking their passage from childhood to womanhood.
The semi-autobiographical novel is loosely based on Alcott and her sisters. She followed it up with two sequels, “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys.”
“Little Women” was immediately popular, the book’s success being tied to its broad appeal to girls of all ages, backgrounds and economic levels. These readers are able to identify with the smart, strong and independent-minded March sisters.
“Little Women” has been made into a movie countless times. Silent versions were filmed in 1917 and 1918. It was remade again by George Cukor in 1933, Mervyn LeRoy in 1949, David Lowell Rich in 1978, Gillian Armstrong in 1994, and Clare Niederpruem in 2018 (to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the novel).
Now, we have yet another movie version of “Little Women,” this one notable because it is directed by actress-turned-director Greta Gerwig. Sony originally hired Gerwig to write the script, but following her successful film “Lady Bird,” she was greenlighted to direct this eighth cinematic adaptation.
This new film stars Emma Watson as the sensible eldest sister Meg, Saoirse Ronan as the fiercely independent Jo, Eliza Scanlan as the shy sister Beth, and Florence Pugh as the confident youngest sister Amy.
Also in the cast are Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk and Chris Cooper. Plus, Meryl Streep as rich, unmarried Aunt March.
“Little Women” can be seen at Boone's Regal Cinema in the New Market Center.
You might ask, why make yet another movie out of “Little Women”? When Sony’s Amy Pascal began thinking about the project, she had to clear that initial hurdle of finding an approach that would speak to a new set of moviegoers who might not know Alcott’s book.
A graduate of Barnard College, where she studied English and philosophy, Gerwig wanted more to be a writer than an actress. She had started her career by co-writing, co-directing and appearing in a number of low-budget Mumblecore films. From there, she graduated to more substantial projects such as Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress,” Woody Allen’s “To Rome with Love,” Rebecca Miller’s “Maggie’s Plan,” the biopic “Jackie” and Mike Miles’s “20th Century Women,” among others.
Having just finished writing “Lady Bird,” Gerwig arrived on the scene for “Little Women” bubbling with ideas.
“It wasn’t that I was looking for the bigger thing and then this was the bigger thing,” Gerwig says. “It’s that this is what I wanted to do, and it needed more bells and whistles. It needed the whole confetti factory. One thing that I loved about ‘Little Women’ was that there were so many different things about it that were new to tackle for me, like the world-building of the time period and creating something consistent but interesting but modern but genuine but period-correct but not slavishly devoted.”
“Greta has a wonderfully associative, well-furnished mind,” offers producer Robin Swicord. “Her take on the novel more than convinced us that we could bring something new to the screen.”
As a girl, Gerwig skipped reading the novel’s second half, finding the story about being grown unrelatable. Now she wanted to make a “Little Women” for adults.
Gerwig had in mind “a clear-eyed approach to the challenges women face as they try to bravely move into new situations.”
The previous versions approached the book in a linear fashion. For Gerwig’s telling, she has chosen to focus more on the book’s second volume, while jumping back and forth in time.
Time Magazine has already picked it as one of the 10 Best Films of the Year.
The critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes concludes, “With a stellar cast and a smart, sensitive retelling of its classic source material, Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ proves some stories truly are timeless.”
Standing there at the Alcott family’s Orchard House, I remember wondering what it would have been like, growing up next door to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Maybe “Little Women” will give me a hint of what it would have been like growing up in the Alcott household itself.