Little Women 2019: An Essay

As always, a spoiler warning is in effect from here on out.

I’d like to preface this by saying that I do genuinely like Little Women 2019 … overall. It’s a much better adaptation because it stays truer to the book as a whole. The main problem with the others is that they focused on superfluous things — like Amy’s romance with Laurie — and left out other important things — like Jo’s conversation with Beth before she dies. They also put way too much focus on “romance as the solution to all problems.” There was also a characterization issue, which is still present but is much less glaring.

However, this movie has one giant, glaring flaw: it doesn’t stay true enough to the books. One reason is because it jumps around way too much. It switches between past and present like a yo-yo, nearly giving me whiplash. If that was clear it would’ve been fine, but all we got was a banner during he first flashback scene and some lighting changes later. I only knew what was going on because I knew the book so well — otherwise, I would’ve been completely lost. I really wish it’d stuck to the original chronology — it’d be a lot less disorienting.

But there are other, much larger reasons why the movie doesn’t stay true enough to the book. It explicitly references it, and then has said quotes out of context or doesn’t even get them right. And it also eviscerates the characters, which is unforgivable when you’re quoting from the source material.


Now, don’t get me wrong — I love that the movie explicitly quotes the book. But it changes the context or eliminate parts of them, which is frustrating when the movie is trying to follow the book. For example, during the debutante ball, Meg’s friends tell her they have a “sweet blue dress” for the party … but then the dress ends up being pink! If you’re going to quote the book, then actually do what the book says! Another example is when Marmee is reading Mr. March’s letter. There are some vocabulary changes to more “modern” words, which is completely unnecessary. There’s also (other than some hidden references) no Christian philosophy. I actually don’t mind, as I expected it, though it does make some scenes hard to explain.

But the biggest error for me is Meg’s put-down to Aunt March when they’re talking about John Brooke. They include a few lines of it in the movie:

AM: You’ll regret this when you’ve tried love in a cottage and found it wanting.
M: It can’t be worse than some people find in big houses.
Greta Gerwig, 2019

These are the best parts of the smack-down, but they lose their impact because they’re completely out of context. In the movie, Meg says these lines to Aunt March after her wedding, when she’s leaving with her new husband. But in the book, Aunt March goes to try to convince Meg not to marry John because he’s poor. Meg’s just rejected him, but after Aunt March tries to eviscerate his character, she defends him and realizes how much she loves him. It’s an important moment of growth that’s completely left out, which makes love the entire reason for her marriage. And that explicitly contradicts both the movie’s message and the book’s.


Which brings me to my second point: the movie completely eviscerates the characters, undermining its message.. Ironically, the only accurate character is Amy. She goes from spoiled brat to someone who’s honestly tolerable and who I can live with marrying Laurie. That’s definitely an improvement from the last two adaptations. Hannah is also pretty accurate, but she’s more of a minor character. Her main flaw is that she’s not really that different from the Marches, but that’s something I can live with.

However, everyone else undermined in one way or another. I’m going to go through them one by one to illustrate my point.

Mr. March

First off, we have Mr. March, Jo’s father and a relatively minor character in the story. The problem with his characterization is that he’s absent, always away at the war and even afterwards not really present in the March family life. However, this is completely inaccurate. Mr. March doesn’t have a significant presence at first, but after returning he becomes an integral part of the March family, and both he and Marmee help Jo cope with Beth’s death. If the movie wanted to remain true to the book, it would include this, instead of entirely cutting him out of the second half.

Mr. Laurence

Then there’s Mr. Laurence, Laurie’s grandfather and adoptive parent. In the movie, he’s too nice to the March family, always speaking softly and never raising his voice. But in the book, he’s gruff towards all of them, except for Beth because she reminds him of his granddaughter. The movie did get that part right, which I really appreciated.


Marmee is next on the list. She’s Jo’s mother and one of the only reasons their household kept running. For the most part, she’s the same: kind, warm, motherly, and often offering sage advice. But she falls into the same trap as most of the other characters: she’s just so … lifeless. She’s a brightly colored cardboard cutout, which is strange considering the movie managed to get everything else right.


Next comes Beth, Jo’s younger sister and the quiet one of the family. One issue I have is that her growth scene is in the wrong context The main growth scene is when she consents to going to the Laurence’s house to practice on their grand piano. The lines were accurate in the movie, but the context was off. In the book, Beth consents to practicing after Marmee calls her in during a conversation with Mr. Laurence. The problem with the movie version is that she consents in front of her entire family, and that’s something Beth never would’ve done. Her shyness is a central character trait, though it does lessen somewhat. Plus Mr. Laurence would’ve been far too polite and caring of her feelings to bring that up in front of too many people.

Along with that, her peace with her imminent death is not handled well. It’s only mentioned in passing, while in the book it’s a central part of her character. Secondly, she says it in such a curt, impatient tone that the Beth of the book would never have used. Thirdly, it’s essentially thrown out there with no explanation other than “this is how it is.” Granted, since the movie cut Christianity out entirely and that’s the explanation in the book, there’s not anything else to fall back on. But I still think there could’ve been an explanation of some sort, no matter how small.

John Brooke

Then we have John Brooke, Laurie’s tutor and Meg’s eventual husband. He’s much the way the books portray him, but he has the same flaw as Marmee: he’s basically a cardboard cutout of himself. Also, his entire purpose to be Meg’s love interest, while in the book he’s far more than that. He fulfills Meg’s dream of having a family, while also showing her that she can accomplish said dream without being rich. This is a perfect follow-up to Marmee’s lecture that riches are noble things, but shouldn’t be the be-all end-all of marriage, and a good example of the book’s message that marriage is a good thing if built on a solid foundation with a good man. The problem with the movie’s portrayal of Meg is that it undermines its own message. It makes love the only reason for marrying someone, instead of making it deeper.


Next is Meg herself, Jo’s older sister and almost a second mother to her. She too falls into the same trap as the other characters, becoming a cardboard cutout of herself the moment she appears in the movie. And no offense to Emma Watson, but I haven’t seen any change in her acting since she was Hermione and I don’t expect there to be any in the future. The problem with this acting is that it completely eliminates Meg’s character. She’s a motherly, romantic girl who’s rather vain and longs to be rich, faults that are essentially conquered when she marries John Brooke. But here, she exists as nothing more than Jo’s older sister and John Brooke’s love interest. Actually, they could apparently be cut without undermining the message, which is simply not true.

Mr. Bhaer

Mr. Bhaer comes next, who is Jo’s German professor friend. His biggest flaw is that he’s completely different. He’s handsome, young, speaks flawless English, and doesn’t find Jo after Beth’s death. In the book, he’s plain, has a thick accent, and is Jo’s confidante and eventual husband entirely due to his character. As with many others, the movie completely undermines its message by making Mr. Bhaer a shadow of himself. Granted, I was never really happy with Jo marrying him, but he would make the most sense. He’s meant to be kind, counseling, wise, and sincerely love Jo’s writing. In the movie, he doesn’t like her writing and doesn’t go after her when she runs away. Jo’s entire reason for marrying him is because she loves him and doesn’t want to be alone for the rest of her life. That’s not the book’s message, and it shouldn’t be the movie’s.

Laurie Laurence

Then we have Laurie Laurence, Jo’s best friend and the boy next door. He is absolutely nothing like his book counterpart, and it makes me mad. He has no emotion in the movie, and I swear the only reason Jo hangs out with him is because she prefers boys and he’s really cute. In the books, he’s energetic, mischievous, talented, and hangs out with the girls because he’s never had any female company before. He and Jo are basically alike other than their gender, and have a loving, teasing relationship that I absolutely adore. But in the movie, he’s part of a love triangle between him, Amy, and Jo, something that isn’t emphasized in the book because it doesn’t exist and that’s not its message. He exists simply as a love interest, and that’s absolutely not who he is in the book.


And finally we have Jo, the protagonist and narrator. She’s also undermined like most of the other characters. In the book, she’s spunky, impulsive, hot-tempered, and creative, and has a gentle side that’s only seen around Beth. In the movie, she has no emotion. Granted, she is more emotional than the rest, but not by much. Along with that, her character is undermined in a few important ways. She wouldn’t marry Mr. Bhaer just for love, and she sticks to that decision, even when she’s terribly lonely. She marries him because she loves him, admires him, and respects him, and he in return. That’s the book’s message, but not the movie’s. She states that she won’t marry just for love, but then contradicts herself by sending Laurie that letter and marrying Mr. Bhaer simply because she’s lonely. She also never would’ve stormed out; she respected him too much for that.

A second, and more glaring error is her feminism. Now, Jo in the book is very much against being a young lady, as she sees them as “affected, niminy-piminy chits” with little to no substance. But she would never go so far as to make the outright feminist statements she does in the movie, and she definitely would never wear pants as she did several times. She is a rebel, I’ll grant you that, but not enough of one to completely go against society.


So there you have it. Little Women 2019 is a perfectly acceptable adaptation of the book and much better than the ones before it, but one that still needs improvement. Directors need to get it straight that its message should be that someone should marry not just for love, but also because the other person admires and respects you as you do in return. All in all, I think it’s worth a watch. But (as is the case with most adaptations), if you want a true picture of the story’s message, read the book.

Your fairytale enthusiast,

Kirsten Hardin

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