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Film / Little Women (2019)

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"Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they've got ambition, and they've got talent, as well as just beauty."

"I'm working on a novel. It is a story of my life, and my sisters'."

Little Women is a 2019 coming-of-age period drama written and directed by Greta Gerwig, based on the 1868 novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott. It is the eighth film adaptation of the book.

The film generally follows the same story as the book it's based on, and focuses on the coming-of-age of the four March sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy), as well as their childhood friend Laurie, during and after The American Civil War. It differentiates itself from other adaptations by employing an anachronic structure and an emphasis on the overall March family rather than Jo specifically.

Among its star-studded cast are Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson as Meg, Florence Pugh as Amy, Eliza Scanlen as Beth, Laura Dern as Marmee, Timothée Chalamet as Laurie, Meryl Streep as Aunt March, Bob Odenkirk as Mr. March, Tracy Letts as Mr. Dashwood, Chris Cooper as Mr. Laurence, James Norton as John Brooke, and Louis Garrel as Friedrich Bhaer.

Tropes specific to this adaptation of Little Women include:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • Louis Garrel is one of the more attractive actors to portray the supposedly older, homely and nebbish Friedrich in live-action. Discussed by director Greta Gerwig in this interview regarding Bhaer.
      Greta Gerwig: I feel like for the history of cinema, guys have been putting glasses on hot women and saying that they’re awkward, so I was like, I can do whatever I want.
    • Marmee is described as visibly aging and not especially beautiful in the book, but here she's portrayed by Laura Dern, who looks youthful. Ironically she's actually older than the character is said to be (Laura Dern was 51 at the time of filming, and Marmee is said to be between forty and forty-seven).
  • Adaptational Badass: A mild example with Amy. While Amy of the book is much more spoiled and Jo is much more justified in feeling angry with her, this Amy is far more outspoken and gets a monologue where she tells Laurie that it isn't just that she wants to marry rich for superficial reasons, but that she needs to finance her family.
  • Adaptational Dye-Job:
    • Jo is said to be "brown" in the original novel and has usually been portrayed by brunettes in live-action, but here she's played by a strawberry blonde Saoirse Ronan.
    • Beth, who was a brunette in the novel, is strawberry blonde in the movie.
  • Adaptational Jerkass:
    • Amy's burning of Jo's manuscript is shown even more maliciously here; she burns each individual page to savor it and gloats in Jo's face when she comes home. She doesn't appear to be sorry for it and bluntly says she wanted to hurt Jo. Also, when Jo accidentally ruins Meg's hair, Amy bursts out laughing here, as opposed to the book, when she actually gives Meg a reasonable fashion choice.
    • Laurie, to Amy. He stands Amy up after promising to pick her up at her hotel. He later shows up to a party drunk and half-naked and embarrasses her and Fred Vaughn (neither event happens in the book). Later, he judges her for being a social climber, while in the book he simply gently questions her plans.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Friedrich Bhaer is German in the book, but French actor Louis Garrel uses his natural French accent here.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: Downplayed. Saoirse Ronan said she felt Jo was asexual, and played her as such. While there definitely is a connection between her and Friederich, the film leaves it open as to whether it's just a close friendship or a romantic attraction. Although they get together, it's only shown after her publisher insists, leaving it vague whether it truly happened.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Friedrich empathizes with the March family after Beth's death, saying that it is very hard to lose a sister, but the death of his sister Minna is never mentioned.
  • Advertised Extra:
    • While definitely not a small role, the advertising made Laurie out to be just as prominent as the titular little women, which he’s not. One poster gave him as much room as Jo's sisters, while the first trailer showed more of him than anyone else, excluding Jo.
    • Despite her role being very small, Meryl Streep was constantly shown in the trailers and is billed higher than many other much more prominent actors.
  • Always Someone Better: Amy thinks herself always being overshadowed by Jo. She lets loose when Laurie confesses her love to him.
    "I have been second to Jo my whole life in everything, and I will not be the person you settle for because you cannot have her. I won't! I won't do it! I wont...not when I've spent my entire life loving you."
  • Ambiguous Ending: Did Jo actually chase Friedrich to the train station, begin a relationship with him, and open the school in Aunt March's mansion, or was that a fictional concession she made for her book? The film's unconventional structure leaves the ending open for interpretation.
  • Age Cut: Inverted. On the train back home after learning of Beth's condition, Jo falls asleep. The camera zooms onto her eyes and then zooms out, revealing her younger self from seven years earlier.
  • Age Lift: While Friedrich is usually portrayed as significantly older than Jo, there's only an eleven year age difference between the actors who play them here, and their characters are presented more as equals than a student/teacher dynamic.
  • Anachronic Order: The timeline of events in the film isn't presented linearly as it is in the book, jumping between different points in the story.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Amy gives one of these to Laurie. note 
  • Bait-and-Switch: The Anachronic Order gives three of these.
    • When Beth recovers from her first illness, Jo wakes up from sleeping next to her and sees that she's gone. Jo panics and runs downstairs, only to see that Beth is better and is with Marmee. When Beth dies, the pattern is repeated, but instead, Jo bursts in on the sobbing Marmee, because Beth has died.
    • Jo attempts to run to put the letter in Laurie's box where she confesses her love for him. Laurie instead returns before looking at the box, and reveals that actually, he and Amy are already married. Jo removes the letter from the box and he never knows the truth.
    • Throughout the first two-thirds of the film, it's ambiguous whether or not the Marches' father died in the war. In the early time-period, he's away helping the war effort and then gets deathly ill. In the late time period, he's completely absent. Then, at the end of the second act, he returns home in the early time period, safe and sound. From that point on, he starts showing up in in the late time period as well, still alive.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Two: first between Amy and Laurie, and then Jo and Friedrich.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Amy (blonde), Meg (brunette), and Beth (redhead).
  • Book Ends:
    • The movie begins with Jo talking to a publisher attempting to get her short story published. She is awkward, forced to play by his rules, and makes multiple concessions to get it published. At the end, she returns to him to get her book which happens to be Little Women published, but this time she is much more confident, and while she still makes a few concessions, she gets some made for her in return.
    • The intro shows Little Women getting bound, and the name Louisa May Alcott beiing embossed on the cover. The ending is the same but the name has become Jo March. This confirms that Jo March is Alcott's Author Avatar.
  • Call-Back:
    • Jo decides to burn most of her old stories to symbolise giving up her writing career, which parallels the scene where Amy had burned her manuscript.
    • Meg spends a fortune on fabric for a new dress at the urging of Sally Moffat, paralleling the flashback to their youth when Sally had Meg dressed up in a grand dress. This time however Meg ends up selling the fabric to Sally, putting her family before her own desires.
    • A scene of Aunt March instructing Amy that she must marry well is followed by one with similar shots and blocking where Amy tells Aunt March she's turned down Fred Vaughn's proposal.
    • Heartbreakingly the sequence of Jo waking up in the morning to find Beth cured from her scarlet fever is followed by the present day scene of her waking up to find that Beth has died.
  • Can't Take Criticism: Jo blows up at Bhaer for saying her stories are "not good", though he says it in a very mild way and doesn't react to her flurry of insults after this. Given that he's a literature professor, he likely had some more constructive criticism to add, but Jo never hears it because of her reaction.
  • Career Versus Man: Reconstructed. Jo urges Meg to follow her dreams of becoming an actress, and Meg says she would love to do so. But she also wants to marry John and have a family, and it's ultimately that path she chooses. And she's perfectly happy with giving up her career for a man because it is her choice.
    "Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn't mean they're unimportant."
  • Cerebus Call-Back: A fun flashback of the girls enjoying a day at the beach gets called back to when Jo is entertaining the ill Beth on the beach - and is in denial about her dying.
  • Color-Coded Characters: The palettes the March sisters wear are true to the book:
    • Meg is usually in green or lavender.
    • Jo is often seen dressed in red or navy.
    • Beth frequently wears violets and pinks.
    • Amy dons shades of blue and white.
  • Childish Bangs: Amy has this hairstyle as a child, but loses them as an adult.
  • Cross-Cast Role: An In-Universe example, with Meg in such a role for a play she and her sisters perform at one point.
  • Cry into Chest: Marmee sobs into Jo's chest when Beth dies.
  • Dance of Romance: It's clear that there's an attraction between Jo and Friederich when the two dance together at a bar in New York.
  • Delayed Family Acceptance: Although she outwardly pretends to do so, Jo initially can't accept Amy and Laurie's relationship. She undergoes a slow defrosting to the idea once she admits to Marmee that she didn't actually want to marry Laurie, she was just lonely and afraid of becoming a spinster after Beth's death.
  • Distracted from Death: Jo is asleep when Beth dies.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Jo never goes by her given name, Josephine, except in introductions when meeting new people. She insists on "Jo" otherwise. Likewise, Theodore Lawrence insists on going by Laurie.
  • The Dutiful Daughter: Amy becomes this after staying with Aunt March, reconstructing her Gold Digger intentions in the original script. Amy is told by Aunt March that it’s now up to her to marry rich so she can help her family have a better life, since her sisters are showing themselves unable or unwilling to do so.
  • Empty Chair Memorial: Some time after Beth's death, Jo wakes up and looks at Beth's empty bed. The piano Mr. Laurence offered to Beth also serves as this until Friedrich plays it.
  • Epigraph: The film opens with a quote by Alcott: "I've had lots of troubles, so I write jolly tales."
  • Expository Hairstyle Change:
    • Jo and Meg are distinguished from their past and present selves by wearing their hair up in the present and down in the flashbacks. The period where Jo has sold her hair also identifies that it's the past by her short hair.
    • Amy has a fringe in her youth and usually Girlish Pigtails, while in the present she wears it without a fringe and in a bun.
    • Laurie's hair is shorter in the present.
  • Fiery Redhead: Jo is this in the film because of her changed hair color — she's still the spunkiest and most outspoken of the four, and is a strawberry blonde to match. Averted with Beth, who is also strawberry blonde in this version but still her traditional shy, quiet self.
  • First Girl Wins: Played with due to the movie's Anachronic Order. Even though Jo is Laurie's First Love and the first March sister he meets, we see an Amy/Laurie scene before we see a Jo/Laurie scene. In fact, we are first introduced to Laurie through a scene with Amy. Jo also has a scene with Friedrich before her first scene with Laurie. This is very different to the original book as well as most adaptations of Little Women and probably a deliberate creative decision.
  • Framing Device: Jo and her publisher Mr Dashwood discussing her novel.
  • Gold Digger: Reconstructed: in an era where women had to support their families with few acceptable ways to earn money, landing and keeping a rich husband was a woman's career — and whether she loved her husband was a secondary concern at best. Amy feels that it's fallen to her to marry well, since the other three can't or won't.
  • Graceful Ladies Like Purple: The dress Meg intends to wear for the debutante ball - which is more befitting her graceful and feminine personality - is purple.
  • Hard-Work Montage: Near the end of the film, when Jo is writing her manuscript. There is a shorter one later while she is watching the printers and bookbinders making the book itself.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Amy describes the smell of burnt hair as "queer", which is a line from the original book.
  • Heroic Ambidexterity: If you watch closely, you can see that Jo switches between writing with her right and left hand when the other one tires.
  • Hollywood Costuming: There’s not much accuracy with the costumes or hairstyles:
    • Many of the day dresses the March sisters wear during the war are cotton when historically there was a cotton shortage in the north.
    • Women and girls typically wore bonnets and other headwear but most of the female characters go bareheaded.
    • The ball gown that Meg borrows for the Moffat’s ball was too high on her neckline and shoulders when evening dresses during that time had lower and wider necklines.
    • Multiple female characters over the age when their hair should be put up (~16) wear it loose, complete with anachronistic bangs and side parts, and giant flyaways that real mid-Victorians would have tamed with pomade/bandoline.
  • How's Your British Accent?: When the girls put on English accents before inviting Laurie to join their club, Emma Watson slips into a posher version of her natural voice.
  • I Have This Friend: Jo initially brings a manuscript to Mr. Dashwood claiming that it's her friend's story, but it quickly becomes obvious that its hers.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: Jo ultimately writes Little Women about her and her sisters' experiences.
  • In Love with Love: Nearly with Jo: she feels so lonely and unloved without her sisters that she would have married Laurie if he hadn't already married her sister Amy. Her wise mother keeps asking if she loves him... which of course she doesn't.
  • Irony: Jo gets sick of being lonely after Beth's death, and writes to Laurie that she has reconsidered his proposal - leaving it open that she may have fallen for him. Then he arrives home to tell her he's now married Amy. She hasn't really fallen for him though; she simply felt lonely and wanted companionship, which she felt that Laurie could have given her.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • Jo's editor Mr Dashwood says of the protagonist of Jo's autobiographical novel "I don't see why she didn't just marry [Laurie]". This is a nod to how large parts of the Little Women fandom (both historic and contemporary) had Jo and Laurie as the Fan-Preferred Couple.
    • Mr. Dashwood also can't understand why Jo doesn't get married to Bhaer, and Jo only is shown hooking up with him after he insists. This parallels how Louisa May Alcott wanted Jo to remain unmarried, but her publishers insisted on her marrying at the end of the story.
  • Literal Metaphor: Friedrich tells Jo she's on fire. She interprets this as a compliment as she's busy writing and teaching, but he means it literally — she was standing next to the fireplace and her dress caught fire.
  • Logo Joke: As homage to the 1994 film also released by Columbia Pictures, the 1993 version of the logo is used with a grey tint along with the current Sony byline.
  • Longing Look: Friedrich throws a few long and wistful looks Jo's way during their time in New York.
  • Marry for Love: Amy turns down Fred's proposal even if it would be a sensible match, simply because she doesn't love him. She only accepts Laurie once she's sure he loves her genuinely, and isn't just settling for the next best thing.
  • Maybe Ever After: It's left open to interpretation whether Jo and Friedrich get married at the end or not.
  • Meet Cute: Jo and Friedrich get one in this adaptation — they bump into each other as Jo first arrives at her New York boardinghouse and smile at each other as they're introduced.
  • Mood Lighting: The March sisters' happy childhood is tinted with warm colors and plenty of light. In contrast, the scenes where they are grown up tend to be shot with bleaker color palettes, especially since they are around the time of Beth's illness and subsequent death. This contrast can best be seen with the two scenes at the beach — the former, where the four sisters and their friends laugh and play along the seashore, is very sunny and almost pastel; the latter, where it's just Beth and Jo, where the latter is in denial that the former is dying, is gray and blue.
  • Mood Whiplash: Beth's first illness, the return of their father, her first recovery, and her second and fatal illness are all blended into one hazy montage.
  • Nested Story Reveal: An ambiguous one. It appears to be revealed that the scenes showing Jo and Friedrich's romantic happy ending are fictitious and are part of Jo's novel. But they may be real; it is up for interpretation.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer cuts the final line ("But I'm so lonely!") of Jo's speech to Marmee about how women are perceived, making it look like an impassioned declaration of female empowerment instead of the teary admission of self-doubt that it actually is.
  • No Woman's Land: All the characters, particularly Jo, face a system that treats them as inferior to men. Aunt March explicitly tells Jo and Amy that a good marriage is a woman's only hope when she can't own property and has few reputable ways to earn money. And poor women like Mrs. Hummel — who is also an immigrant — are left to live as best they can on the charity of others.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Emma Watson's American accent is shaky in this film. Saoirse Ronan slips a few times as well.
  • The Perfectionist: Amy states that she wants to be "great, or nothing" to Laurie.
  • Pink Means Feminine: The dress Meg wears for the debutante ball that Laurie hates is a bright pink. For the time period, pink wouldn't have been considered a feminine colour; it was actually blue (which is the dress Meg wore in the book).
  • Politically Correct History: The Marches' progressive attitude toward slavery, racism, gender roles and other issues are specific to them and reflected Alcott's own views at the time. However, the idea that a black couple would be allowed onto the white community's dance floor is unlikely. Racism was rampant even among northern states during the Civil War era.
  • Race for Your Love:
    • A variant earlier in the film. Jo's running to put the letter in Laurie's box is played this way, but reality kicks in — Laurie has already married Amy, so Jo's race was all for nothing.
    • Jo jumps in a carriage and races after Friedrich as he's about to board a train to California, they declare their love for one another and kiss in the rain, and he decides to stay. Maybe.
  • Romantic Rain: Played With. It's pouring with rain when Jo runs to confess her love for Friedrich at the train station. It's ambiguous if the trope is played straight (if Jo is telling the truth), or invoked (if Jo is trying to give a happy, romantic ending to something that either didn't happen, or didn't happen like that.)
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Aunt March is incredibly blunt, and tells Meg she's ruined her life by marrying John Brooke, and takes numerous shots at her brother and Marmee for marrying for love.
  • Settle for Sibling: Reconstructed. Amy is initially aghast that Laurie would make advances towards her despite their growing mutual feelings, as she has always felt second to Jo and doesn't want this to spill over into her marriage. However, she ends up turning down Fred Vaughn's proposal because of Laurie's confession and they end up married. Laurie later assures Jo that the love he feels for Amy is different (in a good way) than the love he feels for Jo, which helps a lot with the Replacement Goldfish vibes this trope usually has.
  • Sequel Hook: The ending is one to Little Men — it shows Jo opening the school at Plumfield with Laurie and Amy's daughter Beth being born. Jo's publisher also mentions the possibility of sequels and more characters.
  • Shipper on Deck: All of Jo's family encourage her to go after Professor Bhaer and even drive her in the carriage to catch him at the station. However, given the Ambiguous Ending, this may just be part of the book Jo's writing, not her actual life.
  • Slow-Motion Pass-By: When Amy runs into Laurie in Paris early in the film, her carriage is going one way while he is walking in the other direction, and their passing by is seen in slow motion before Amy demands to stop the carriage.
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Subverted. When Jo says that she might be reconsidering Laurie's proposal, not knowing that he and Amy are growing closer, Marmee asks if she loves him after all. Jo's dialogue is clear that she still doesn't, and is rather In Love with Love.
  • Voiceover Letter: Jo reads a letter from Friedrich in his voice, and this is paired with a scene of him talking.
  • You Are Too Late: Several times.
    • Jo is too late to say goodbye to Beth - she actually slept through her death.
    • Jo is also too late to tell Laurie that she loves him. While she finally confesses to him that she loves him in a letter, Laurie has already married Amy.
  • Zip Me Up: When Laurie unbuttons Amy's painting apron.


Video Example(s):


Amy and Laurie

Events slow down as Amy, in a carriage, sees her childhood friend Laurie walking in the opposite direction.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / SlowMotionPassBy

Media sources: