Alternate Character Interpretation: Did Jo go after Bhaer and get married to him, or did she only write that as happening in her book? The film presents it just ambiguously enough that either interpretation is valid. Its worth noting that Jo doesnt seem too upset when shes told that the main character has to marry, giving a warm smile when she agrees to write it in. Could that be because she got together with Bhaer and while she didnt want to force her main character to marry, it ultimately reminds her of her own romance and that makes her smile? Could it be because while shes forced to change the book, she knows that her work will end up being published and that happiness overpowers her getting forced to change that part? Could it be that she didnt get together with Bhaer but still harbors affection for him and enjoys the idea of them marrying even if she herself decided against doing so in real life?
And You Thought It Would Fail: When yet another adaptation of Little Women was announced - especially following the beloved 1994 version, and the fact that a BBC miniseries had aired literally two years earlier - people thought it would be pointless. Some were convinced it would be Greta Gerwig's Follow-Up Failure to Lady Bird. Needless to say, it was a critical and commercial hit, with several Oscar nominations too.
Jo quotes a letter by Louisa May Alcott that sums up the thesis of the movie with the subtlty of a sledgehammer. (However, the trailers are partly to blame for this, leaving out the final line, "But I'm so lonely"):
"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. Im so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. Im so sick of it!"
Amy's speech about marriage as an "economic proposition" is also quite anvilicious, considering what we've already learned about legal and social restrictions on female autonomy at the time. Unsurprisingly this bit wasn't in the script, and was thought up by Meryl Streep moments before it was filmed. Many viewers agree that it's a good monologue, but it shouldn't been placed either earlier in film or instead of one of the other speeches.
The publisher insisting that Jo's heroine end the story dead or married is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. This did admittedly happen to Louisa May Alcott however.
Likewise the publisher is uninterested in Jo's manuscript at first and doesn't think anyone will want to read it. Then there's a scene where his three daughters burst into the room, excited to know what happens next. The scene is in no way subtle about the Girl-Show Ghetto.
As soon as the Oscar nominations were announced, some fans took to Twitter to complain about Greta Gerwig being passed over for a Best Director nomination. Others in wider circle took issue with this. (See Broken Base)
To a lesser extent, Florence Pugh. While some think she should've won, other still feel that Pugh was miscast, particularly as younger Amy, and didn't really warrant a win.
The Amy and Laurie romance continues to be divisive. Some thought this adaptation redeemed it, while others thought it made it worse.
Which is the better version of Little Women: this version or the 1994 version. While there are arguably many fans of the new version, some prefer the 1994 film for being more book accurate (especially in regards to the costume design and the relationship between Jo and Professor Bhaer.
To a lesser extent, whether Greta Gerwig actually deserved an Oscar nomination for her directing. Some feel that fans crying out that Gerwig was robbed ignored arguably more deserving female snubs; like Céline Sciamma and Lulu Wang; and are only upset on behalf of Gerwig due to her being the more mainstream choice. Some could also argue that Gerwig didn't due anything revolutionary with the story, other than the non-linear timeline and that she was overpraised due to her overenthusiastic fanbase.
There's also some division over the new Anachronic Order of the film. Depending on who you ask it's one of the best or worst parts of the adaptation. The former camp say it allowed the story to be told in a new, exciting way that helps set this adaptation apart from previous version. The latter camp says it was an unnecessary touch that adds very little outside of differentiating from the prior films of Little Women, and can cause slight confusion amongst viewers unfamiliar with the original story.
Mr. Laurence ended up being pretty well liked due to Chris Coopers warm, heartbreaking work and strong chemistry with Eliza Scanlen.
Professor Bhaer gained many new fans for his relationship with Jo. Which is pretty ironic considering the new ending.
Esoteric Happy Ending: The film ends on a bittersweet note. While Beth is dead and no one matched up quite with whom they expected, the family is still together leading fulfilling, comfortable and happy lives. But is Jo's happy ending really happy? Can she live in close proximity to a man she was and perhaps is still in love with? And can Laurie really stay committed to his Settle for Sibling marriage while in close proximity to the woman he spent his early life loving? And since the family relies on Laurie's money, any problems in their various relationships could jeopardize the whole family's survival.
Hollywood Homely: In spite of being played by Saoirse Ronan, Jo describes herself as "homely" twice.
Hype Backlash: As noted under Broken Base, Greta Gerwig's direction. With so many people claiming her snub was a crime and due to sexism, plenty of viewers walked away saying that while her work was certainly strong, her snub isn't that bad, especially considering the many other acclaimed directors - male and female - who were similarly snubbed that season.
Misaimed Fandom: As always, there several viewers who say that Jo shouldve gotten together with Laurie; even though the film makes it explicitly clear that Jo doesnt love him.
Older Than They Think: Greta Gerwig intentionally wanted to parallel Jo with Louisa May Alcott - hence the metatextual scenes of the publisher discussing how the story should end. This was previously touched on in the 1994 version, where Jo's characterization was tailored to more closely resemble the author's. This post explains it further.
Relationship Writing Fumble: Despite the possible idea that Jo and Bhaer dont actually get together, many think that they come across as a strong couple in this version, and prefer to think that their marriage really did happen.
For over a century readers have resented Amy for her bratty behavior as a child, and for supposedly "stealing" Laurie from Jo. However, Florence Pugh's Oscar-nominated portrayal of Amy has been particularity well-received. While not much about her character was changed, the film puts a bit more emphasis on her, both as a Foil to Jo and as a complex woman in her own right. It helps that due to the Anachronic Order, she is first introduced as a mature, intelligent adult, therefore leaving a better first impression, and her relationship with Laurie is given more focus; not to mention Child Amy also gets some of the funnier scenes in the movie.
Similarly, the Amy/Laurie ship, which was seen for years as Laurie settling for Jo's sister because he couldn't have Jo, has now become much more popular.
Shipper on Deck: In-Universe; 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.
Strangled by the Red String: Some didnt see much in the way of chemistry between Florence Pugh as Amy and Timothée Chalamet as Laurie. There are those who thought the latter seemed too aloof and apathetic during their scenes together, with others believing their positive interactions are too few and far between in comparison to their arguments for them to look like a happy couple.
The 1994 film adaptation set the bar very high (a 92% adaptation), so another theatrical film had the odds stacked against it. However this ended up averted, with Greta Gerwig doing her own spin on the story, and several incarnations of the characters that were considered better or equal to previous versions.
This was also Greta Gerwig's second film after her Sleeper Hit that was Lady Bird (which has a whopping 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). A month after its release, Little Women was getting great reviews, so it seems this is subverted too. Reception wasn't as strong, but it was still strong enough to avoid this trope.
Unintentionally Sympathetic: Meg and her wealthy friends during the debutante ball scene. Meg borrowing an expensive dress and acting like a Princess for a Day is meant to come across as her changing herself to fit in, and Laurie calls her out on this. But her friends never act all that shallowin fact, one of them tells her to keep the dressand the outfit isnt really that tacky compared to what everyone else is wearing. The fact that Meg eventually names her daughter Daisy, which was her friends Affectionate Nickname for her, also makes their friendship look genuine, not skin-deep or shallow.
Win the Crowd: Announcement of yet another adaptation was first met with rolled eyes, especially in light of The BBCMini Series that had just come out. However once the announcement of the cast members - Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Laura Dern as Marmee and Meryl Streep as Aunt March - as well as Greta Gerwig as director, excitement for the film grew.
As in every other version, poor Beth applies. Shes already sympathetic based on her shy, timid nature alone, but watching her struggle with her health in a battle is heartbreaking, especially since she and her family know she cant win it.
Mr. James Laurence applies as well. Chris Cooper plays him in a way where you feel an inherent sadness and regret present, which makes much more sense when you know his backstory, and how he ended pushed his child away when he disapproved of his romance, with them dying not long afterwards. When he meets the March family, Mr. Laurence goes on to become close with Beth, treating her with parental like affectation. When she dies hes shown to be in mourning, with Jo finding him wandering around her house, causing Laurence to confess that he wants to go in and grieve with the family, but hes in too much pain to do so.
Jo also applies. Shortly after having her heartbroken by when her sister dies she breaks down and cries about how lonely she feels, getting to the point where she seriously considers marrying Laurie even though she herself is aware that she doesnt actually love him, wanting to do so only to alleviate her feelings of isolation.
The girls wear seemingly new cotton dresses during the parts that take place in the war, even though there was a cotton shortage and there's no way for them to have gotten new ones made.
None of them wear hand-me-downs, from each other or from Marmee even though given their financial situation, they would in real life.
The wrong silhouettes are worn in both of the timelines (i.e. hoopskirts are being embraced in the second timeline when the should be being worn in the first one; bustle skirts were more fashionable in the second era.)
They never wear bonnets and wear their hair down, when they should be wearing them with their hair up. Marmee's obviously dyed hair also sticks out like a sore thumb.
At least one scene has Amy wearing modern Ugg boots. Uggs were first popularized in the 1960s and 70s as part of Australian surfer culture, a mere 100 years after the film is set.