One of the three remaining sisters has a line in Greta Gerwig’s movie version of Little Women, saying Aunt March would probably roll over in her grave if she knew Jo had turned the old woman’s fine mansion into a school. Another sister comments Aunt March would maybe only turn slightly, not completely roll over. Maybe Louisa May Alcott’s dead body would also only make a slight turn at the changes made to her classic tale.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the many movie versions of Little Women, from Katherine Hepburn to June Allyson to Winona Ryder, the nonlinear story line and Saoirse Ronan as Jo in the 2019 film will not bother you with comparisons. If you are a purist and don’t like modern versions of old stories (I always have trouble with the Hawaiian versions of Shakespeare and the Nutcracker), you can draw from your memory to connect the plot lines, as you wait breathlessly hoping those key elements and famous lines made the movie cut. They did, and when you hear Jo holding Professor Bhaer’s hands in the rain, saying “They are not empty now,” you will be relieved.
Despite the changes, Gerwig steadfastly retains the most important pieces of the novel, and despite my trepidation, I liked the movie. At times. I almost thought Gerwig’s version was an improvement on the book as she refreshingly drew out the adult lives of the sisters.
On my trip to Bath long ago, someone on my tour asked who was Jane Austen, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some had never heard of Louisa May Alcott or Little Women, but certainly none among you, dear readers. If you were completely oblivious to the classic, Gerwig’s movie version would provide enough sound material to give you the flavor and theme of the story about four sisters in the nineteenth century but might be a problem if you were trying to see the movie instead of reading the book for a discussion or a book report. Wouldn’t it be fun to include this classic in a book club, comparing notes from book to movie? Marissa Martinelli gives a detailed comparison of book to movie, character by character, in Slate.
If you are fan of PBS’s Grantchester, you might recognize Mr. Brook (John Norton) as the minister detective from the first series. Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame plays Meg, and other familiar faces will nudge you but you may not be able to quite place them – Chris Cooper as Mr. Lawrence and Tracy Letts as the publisher – and, of course, there is Meryl Streep as Aunt March.
The book recently celebrated its 150th anniversary and its characters still have a universal appeal. Many readers identify with Jo, the feisty writer, tomboy, adventurer, or maybe many just wish to have her gumption. As for me, I like Amy best.
Should you see the movie? Yes. Should you read the book (again)? Yes. Do you need to know the book to enjoy the movie? No.