Released theatrically on December 25, 2019, Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women is the 7th film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel. The film managed to snag 6 Academy Award nominations and 2 Golden Globe nominations, taking home the Academy Award for best costume design. The film boasts an all-star cast, including Saoirse Ronan as Jo March, Florence Pugh as Amy March, Eliza Scanlen as Beth March, Emma Watson as Meg March, Meryl Streep as Aunt March, Laura Dern as Marmee March, and Timothée Chalamet as Theodore ‘Laurie’ Lawrence.
Though there are many unforgettable moments throughout the film, these are what I believe to be the top 10 from this particular adaptation.
10. Father Returns From War
The girls’ father is absent for most of the film, as he is off serving his country and fighting in the Union army. During Christmas, 1861, Marmee (Dern) reads the girls a letter sent to them by their father, where we learn that he is the one who affectionately coined them his “little women.” The audience doesn’t hear anything about father again until Marmee receives word that he has fallen ill, and she travels to take care of him.
Marmie is forced to return to the girls when Beth (Scanlen) contracts scarlet fever, but Father returns at Christmas to surprise his family. The scene is beautiful, seeing the girls scream and run to hug their father as soon as they lay eyes on him. It reveals how much of an impact he has on his daughters, even in his initial absence.
9. Jo Writing her Novel
The film’s protagonist, Jo (Ronan), struggles with her writing throughout her time growing up. Though obviously gifted, she seems unable to find subject matters that will be meaningful to her but will also sell to the press. She ends up displacing her true passion for money, resorting to writing more controversial pieces in order to earn money to help care for Beth. In her youth, she originally drafted a novel titled “For Father,” but Amy (Pugh) burns it up in a jealous rage and forces Jo to start over. She initially considers giving up writing, but Beth’s death reignites her creative spark.
The scene consists of a montage of Jo lighting candles, scribbling on paper, rearranging her pages all over the floor of the attic, and eventually falling asleep surrounded by her work. It is a truly empowering scene, spurred by tragedy, showing the true impact that Jo’s family has on her and how something beautiful can be born out of something horrible.
8. Beth Playing The Grand Piano
Beth, the youngest of the four March sisters, is seen struggling with illness for much of the film’s duration. However, her gentle disposition and kind nature are always the focal points for her character, earning her sisters’ admiration for being “the best of them.” There is only one thing that she truly loves as much as she loves her family — playing the piano. Beth is a gifted musician, often seen playing the piano in the sitting room of her home.
After Jo befriends Laurie, Laurie’s grandfather, Mr. Lawrence, invites Beth to come and play the grand piano in his home whenever she pleases. Beth jumps at the offer, coming and going from the Lawrence house to play the beautiful instrument. It is such a big moment for Beth, seeing her talent flourish while also drawing parallels to Mr. Lawrence’s deceased daughter who was also musically gifted. It also shows the development of the relationship between Mr. Lawrence, who grieves much after she has passed.
7. Jo & Laurie Dance Outside In Little Women (2019)
After being dragged to a winter ball by her older sister, Meg, Jo shuffles through the house to avoid a potential suitor, backing into a fire-lit room and straight into Theodore Lawrence. The boy is clearly smitten with her as he introduces himself as Laurie, proceeding to then ask her for a dance. She jokingly rejects his advance, showing him her scorched dress and claiming she can’t let anyone see, but Laurie comes up with an alternative. The pair go outside, dancing gleefully just on the other side of the party and enjoying each other’s company.
Not only is this the meeting scene of two of the main characters in the film, but it also illustrates the kind of relationship they will have. Jo awkwardly stumbled at first, nearly knocking Laurie off his feet, transitioning to their goofy spin and joyful laughs, all showing exactly how well the two got along. The choreography is also on point, perfectly blending period dancing with a bit of modern flair every now and again. Although this was not my favorite ‘moment’ from the film, it was certainly the most entertaining scene in the entire film.
6. Jo & Marmee’s Talk About Anger
It is very clear from the beginning of the film that Jo is not as refined as many girls were expected to be during that time period. She blatantly uses boyish, political words, writes crass material and struggles immensely with a terrible temper. Often times, this temper gets the better of her, leading her to do some questionable things. When Amy throws her first novel into the fire, Jo vows to never forgive her and begins to ignore her. Amy struggles to make it up to her, their fight culminating in an accident on the frozen pond near their house where Amy nearly drowned.
Jo and Laurie are able to save her, and the doctor says there won’t be any long-term damage. But Jo grapples with the immense guilt of nearly causing her little sister’s death. She expresses this to Marmee, who explains that she too struggles with the same immense anger as Jo. She tells Jo that she will learn to control it, holding her close as she comforts her. This is such a touching scene between mother and daughter, something rarely seen with Jo because she is less emotional than her sisters and rarely allows herself to be vulnerable with those around her. Discovering that her mother struggles with anger too is a turning point for Jo, and the audience certainly sees her controlling her anger from then on out.
5. Jo Is Given The First Copy Of Her Novel
After negotiating the contract for her book, Jo goes to the printing factory and watches on in admiration as the novel she worked so hard to create gets its first copy. The scene is meticulous, showing the letters being pulled out, the ink rolled over the pages, the book is sewn together, and the cover is imprinted on the red leather. As soon as the first copy is finished, the man comes out and hands it to Jo, who smiles as she runs her hands along with the cover. She hugs it close, knowing how much it would have meant to her late sister to see her writing again.
It is the culmination of all of her hard work and the struggles she endured throughout her life. For Jo, this is the moment that everything has come full circle and she has achieved what she longed for. It’s a beautiful scene, so eloquently shot. It’s very simple, but it goes a long way.
4. Jo Turns Down Laurie’s Proposal In Little Women (2019)
One of the most noticeable things throughout the film is the chemistry between Laurie and Jo. From their outdoor dance party to Jo giving Laurie her ring as a gift, it wasn’t exactly a shock when Laurie revealed he wanted to be more than just friends. In a desperate attempt at uncovering her feelings, Laurie confesses his love through a proposal, insisting that their families expect them to wed and be happy together.
Unfortunately for him, this proclamation of love does not garner the response that he was hoping for. Jo interrupts him, pleading with him not to spoil their friendship with the proposal. They begin to argue, Laurie exclaiming that he would rather be dead than live knowing she didn’t love him. Jo tries to justify her rejection, saying that she wouldn’t fit into his world and he would grow tired of her writing, so they shouldn’t ruin their friendship with marriage.
What really makes this scene so heartbreaking is that the entire time Jo is listing off reasons why they wouldn’t be happy, Laurie just stares at her sadly and repeats the phrase “I love you, Jo” while shaking his head in disagreement. It is a pivotal scene for both characters, as it sets Laurie down a destructive path and Jo into lonely exile in New York. But it also displays the raw emotions that both characters feel for one another.
3. Amy’s Speech To Laurie About Marriage
Amy March’s character has always been hailed as the villain when it comes to Little Women. But Gerwig defies all previous notions of the character by purposefully displaying her as so much more. Amy does indeed start out as the spoiled, bratty little sister who does strange things to gain affection and burns Jo’s novel. As she grows into a young woman, however, we see her undergo significant change. Amy mentions throughout her childhood that she intends to marry into wealth, something that Jo and Laurie constantly chastise her for.
She eventually fights back, giving a speech to Laurie about how she is unashamed of her aspirations and that marriage is much more important to a woman than it is to a man. She recounts how all of her money (if she had any) and the children she would give birth to would not be hers – they would be her husband’s.
“So, don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition because it is. It may not be for you, but it most certainly is for me,”
Amy tells him. It is at this moment that her character development is recognizable, and you begin to realize that she is not a villain after all; she’s just a woman trying to make it in a man’s world.
2. Jo Renegotiates The Contract On Her Book In Little Women (2019)
As Jo adjusts to the criticism of her work and the demands of Mr. Dashwood, the editor at a local publishing house, she begins to discover that writing is not entirely what she thought it would be. She begins to write only for the audience, seeking money rather than sticking to the subject matter she prefers to write about. However, when Beth succumbs to scarlet fever, Jo has to reevaluate what the purpose of her writing is and how to proceed after her beloved sister’s passing. “Do it for someone else,” Beth had prompted her. So, Jo begins again and writes her novel. The entirety of it is based on her and her family’s lives or “domestic struggles” as she refers to them, but she is unsure if she will be able to take it any farther than a simple proposition.
After realizing that there was, in fact, a market for Jo’s ‘Little Women’, Mr. Dashwood begins negotiations with her as to the rights of her novel. He initially offered her very little, claiming that he is the one taking all of the risks and therefore needed to make his money back first. Instead of just agreeing, Jo fights back, forcing him to raise her royalties to 6.6% and retaining the copyright to her book. Perhaps one of the most empowering moments in the book for Jo, this scene shows just how much she’s grown as a person and a writer. The way she stood up for herself and demanded to be compensated fairly was amazing. She also delivers what I believe is one of her most iconic lines:
“Mr. Dashwood, if I’m going to sell my heroine into marriage for money, I may as well get some of it.”
1. Jo’s Speech In The Attic In Little Women (2019)
After Beth dies, Jo comes to the realization that life is much too short to waste. While cleaning Beth’s things out of the attic, Jo and Marmee have a serious talk about her future as both a writer and a woman. Jo explains that she is having second thoughts about her rejection of Laurie’s initial proposal, saying that if he were to ask her again, she would accept. Marmee then points out that she isn’t in love with Laurie and Jo becomes visibly upset as she launches into the most iconic soliloquy of the entire film.
Jo expresses that she believes women are more than just pretty faces in a crowd – they are intelligent, powerful, and witty in all of the same ways that men are. She resents the fact that women are only seen as fit for marriage and having children, her eyes welling with tears as she realizes the truth of her emotions. “I’m so sick of it,” she says, hesitating as she cries, “but I’m so lonely.” For me, this was the moment I solidified in my mind that I had never related to a fictional film character the way I related to Jo March. Ronan’s acting in this scene, coupled with the very relevant frustration regarding relationships, just makes the entire scene so powerful.