Little Women: Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet — Image courtesy Columbia Pictures
Timothée Chalamet strides in slow motion into the 1860s milieu of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (★★★★☆), a vision of youth and promise as the good-natured yet rascally heir Theodore Laurence. Reunited for this moving adaptation with Oscar-nominated Lady Bird writer-director Greta Gerwig, Chalamet fuses sensitivity and star-power, conveying ardor and heartbreak, and further solidifying the Call Me By Your Name actor’s fruitful path playing romance.
Yet for all his scene-stealing wiles, Laurie, as heir Laurence is known, is merely one potential beau among many, along with Fred Vaughn (Dash Barber), Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel), and “penniless tutor” John Brooke (John Norton), all flocking like birds around the March sisters, seeking purchase in the sturdy tree of their love. The Marches — Meg (Emma Watson), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Jo (Saoirse Ronan) — are the forces of nature who dazzle the men who adore them, and who pulse with vitality, intelligence, wit, and the generosity instilled in them by their dear father Robert (Bob Odenkirk) and mother Marmee (Laura Dern).
The entire family, including old crabapple Aunt March (portrayed with charming rancor by Meryl Streep), live through joys and sorrows enough to have filled a trilogy of books by Alcott, and numerous stage, TV, and film adaptations over the past several decades. Speaking to our supposedly more enlightened age, Gerwig locates a modern voice to express the March sisters’ dreams and ambitions as signs of progress for all women. In Ronan’s galvanizing turn, the brash and bookish Jo embodies a passion for her work and art, and her independence, that could have driven a talented author to success in the 1860s, the 1960s, or right now. Pugh is a splendid Amy, tracing a bright but self-centered girl’s growth into womanly wisdom. And, as the root of so much of the sisters’ kindness and determination, Dern’s Marmee stands as a timeless example of excellent parenting.
Of course, while Marmee’s maternal understanding might be timeless, the film’s 19th-century period is quite specific, and artfully presented here. Shot in the sun-dappled and candlelit tones of a world yet to fully embrace the incandescent light bulb, Little Women illuminates the hope that, to paraphrase, the arc of the universe might continue to bend towards progress.
Little Women is rated PG, and opens everywhere on Wednesday, December 25. Visit www.fandango.com.
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André Hereford covers arts and entertainment for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @here4andre.
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