Greta Gerwig's followup to Lady Bird shows that Gerwig hasn't lost her touch when it comes to critics. They loved Lady Bird, and now they love Little Women. (Little Women has a Metacritic score of 91/100, while Lady Bird's was 94.) Those scores are well-deserved ... Gerwig directs with a confidence that belies the fact that she is relatively new to directing.
Lady Bird was strongly autobiographical, and part of what Gerwig (who also wrote the screenplay) does with Little Women is turn a well-known, classic story into a backdoor version of autobiography. Jo, the central character, a writer, is played by Saoirse Ronan, who was also the lead in the earlier movie, and in this version of the story, Jo's attempt to make art out of the lives of her and her sisters results in a novel, Little Women, written by Jo. To a certain extent, Gerwig sidesteps Louisa May Alcott.
Ronan is excellent, as are all of the actors playing sisters: Emma Watson as Meg, Florence Pugh as Amy, and Eliza Scanlen as Beth. The grown ups are played by a fine who's who of venerable actors: Laura Dern, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Chris Cooper. Meryl Streep is even tolerable as Aunt March. And Gerwig does a beautiful job of showing the closeness of the sisters without being too sappy.
What is missing in all of these performances, though, is the quirkiness that Gerwig brings to her own acting. (Richard Brody brings up a lot of these points in his piece, "The Compromises of Greta Gerwig’s 'Little Women'".) Both Lady Bird and Little Women are intelligent and stylish films, but neither shows the goofy freedom of Gerwig in my favorite scene of hers, from Frances Ha:
As a director, Gerwig hints at this freedom, and these movies are both quite good as is. But if Gerwig ever writes/directs an entire movie like that dance in Frances Ha, it will be magnificent. It might look something like this:
(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)