Little Women (2019), written by Greta Gerwig, is yet another adaptation of the classic American story. Let’s analyze the script.
- Draft Read: Undated
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 125
- Reading Speed: Moderate
- Setting(s): New York, Paris, France
- Plot Structure: Nonlinear, Spanning multiple years
- Genre(s): Coming-of-age
- Theme(s): Family, Relationships, Gender Roles, Love, Death, Socioeconomic Differences
- Protagonist Change: Significant
If The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is the quintessential (bonus points if you can spell quintessential on the first try) story for American boys, Little Women must be the equivalent for girls.
Being a former boy, I was not familiar with the plot, and as a man, I didn’t find it interesting enough to determine how far astray the script went compared to the original story.
But it’s a good script. About as good as one can expect from a big-budget film that I presume went through countless revisions. It comes as no surprise to read on Wikipedia (the most reliable source) that Gerwig penned many drafts. I’ll presume she was given quite a bit of creative control, because as noted it really comes together to form a solid screenplay.
Alright, why was it good? There’s a bunch of reasons. It’s written in a unique style that has lots of dual dialogue and talking over one another (the us of “/” comes mid-line to denote when someone is supposed to start speaking. Example (Page 8):
Aren’t we fine, /Ma’am.
/GET HIM OFF ME!
So Aunt March starts speaking after Laurie says, “Fine.”
Why does this work? Well, it picks up the pace, which makes it more realistic, and it adds to the sensory overload that one naturally experiences in the March Household, with many teenage girls (and the occasional boy).
How about the ending? It goes meta. The story ends with Jo selling her story about little women to a publisher, which is the story we are reading. And it’s lighthearted, because it allows us to choose what ending we want to believe; Jo finds love or doesn’t. Cheeky.
Onto dialogue. Also a strength. Unfortunately I didn’t mark down specific examples, probably because I was somewhat lost in the story. It’s not an easy feat to write believable dialogue between men and women, perhaps that much harder between teenage boys and girls (see Nerve (2016), a script where the dialogue fell flat), and then add in that this is a period piece. Impressive!
I thought the characters were great. Perhaps the only one that went a bit too far was Aunt March… too much of the all men-suck mentality. And at times it did feel like some of the siblings, notably Beth and Meg (I’m aware they had different hobbies… but still) were too alike. But disregarding all that, the characters were deep, emotional complex and believable.
It’s hard to note any neutrals or negatives for that matter. That would be like saying there are issues with any of the Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn stories. Perhaps this adaptation left out an important subplot. But even if it did, it works as it is.
It essentially jumps between two different plots that progress in a linear fashion: One starting in 1861 and the other 1868 (if I recall the years correctly). You could almost think of it as following the 1868 plot with frequent flashbacks to 1861 to see what made the moments in 1868 so powerful.
The plot follows the March family sisters, who one could probably think of as equivalent to a middle-class family in our time. There’s the richer family (Laurence’s) and poorer family (can’t recall the name).
It’s rare to see a story focus on powerful women. And so many of the relatively few scripts that focus on women tend to make them crazy (ex. Tar (2021)) or put them in bad spots (ex. Devil Wears Prada (2006)); it’s quite unique to read of relatively normal women.
And they’re powerful characters too. Sure, as we expect love is a big aspect of the story, but so are their passions, desires and dreams.
Dialogue & Pacing
Dialogue was strong. Much of it is actually just comments on society and how it treats women. A few examples (Page 68):
Well. I’m not a poet, I’m just a woman. And as a woman I have no way to make money, not enough to earn a living and support my family.
(crying, trying to explain herself to herself)
Women have minds and souls as well as hearts, ambition and talent as well as beauty and I’m sick of being told that love is all a women is fit for. But… I am so lonely.
But it doesn’t go all the way so as to be anti-man (probably not the best term), with the exception of Aunt March (Page 94):
Well, I hope you’re happy. Now that you’ve ruined your life, just like your Mother did by marrying you father.
Despite her meanness, the March family is so happy, that they burst out laughing at Aunt March’s rudeness.
It took me a few days to read the script, so I can’t comment on pacing.
I think I’ve more or less noted the impact of this script. It’s a story about normal people. And normal people are flawed, make mistakes and have to make tough decisions. Of course that’s going to be emotionally impactful.
Best Part of The Script
I thought the best scene was between Jo and Laurie, when Laurie asks Jo to marry him but she refuses (Starts on Page 96). It’s powerful because the characters are so complex and believable, and most of all are emotional beings. Because their chemistry is so strong, the dialogue between the characters progresses in meaningfulness quickly. So it’s not just the scene that’s powerful, but everything that it builds to.
As a little congrats to myself, it appears the audience is in agreement in regard to the scene’s importance. The video of it has 4.7 million views on YouTube. Read the script and then watch it. It’s interesting how far off script the dialogue goes too.