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Review: 'Little Women' brings classic back to screen

Writer-director Greta Gerwig brings her sharp sense of humor to the latest telling of the timeless story

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

The March siblings return in "Little Women," Greta Gerwig's warm retelling of Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel about a group of sisters growing up in Civil War New England. 

Writer-director Gerwig ("Lady Bird") brings a deep appreciation for the source material to her telling, which follows 1994's Winona Ryder-starring adaptation, the most recent filmed version of the American classic. 

Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Eliza Scanlen in "Little Women."

Here, Saoirse Ronan stars as Josephine March, "Jo" to those who know her, a budding author who we first meet as she's trying to sell her work to a big city publisher (Tracy Letts). He takes her work but slashes it, tells her to write "short and spicy," and advises going forward, if her lead character is a girl, "make sure she's married by the end," he says. "Or dead. Either one." 

Back home, we spend time with Jo's sisters Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen), who grow up next door to the wealthy Laurence family, including the charming Laurie (Timothée Chalamet). Laurie is a love interest for both Jo and Amy, which provides the chief dramatic crux of the story. 

Gerwig tells her story out of order, a narrative decision that sends the film ping-ponging back and forth between two periods. It's at times unnecessary; if Gerwig was concerned about making her mark on the 150-year-old story, she needn't be, as her comedic voice is polished and distinctly her own. 

Laura Dern and Meryl Streep, as the March sisters' mother and aunt, respectively, add to the richness of the fine cast. "I may not always be right, but I'm never wrong," Streep's Aunt March says, a confidence matched by this version of "Little Women." 

'Little Women'

GRADE: B

Rated PG: for thematic elements and brief smoking

Running time: 135 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama