“When [Laurie] asks [Jo] to marry him, what’s so wonderful and heartbreaking about it is it’s not just that he’s saying ‘I love you’ and she’s saying ‘I don’t love you,’” Gerwig explained. “It’s that he’s stepping out of childhood. He’s stepping out of androgyny and he’s saying, ‘I’m a man, and I’d like you to come be a woman, for me, as my wife.’ It’s like he’s claiming his adult role and he’s asking her to claim hers, and she doesn’t want to. Amy wants to.”
But aside from all that, Gerwig pointed out, the two simply have such a great rapport in the book, she didn’t want to lose that on-screen. “I mean, just to be a little less highfalutin about it ...” She trailed off and lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “I think Amy and Laurie have a lot of sexual chemistry.” She laughed. “They want to fuck!”
Indeed, Pugh’s Amy gazes at Chalamet’s Laurie in a way Ronan’s Jo never does. (“She looks at Laurie like he’s Bo Derek in 10,” Gerwig joked of Pugh’s ogling.) But perhaps most impressive, in Gerwig’s take, neither relationship diminishes the importance of the other. Amy and Laurie’s romance doesn’t replace Jo and Laurie’s love, because the proposal defines Jo and Laurie’s relationship as friendly. Sure, it’s heated—Laurie chases Jo around while confessing his feelings—but Gerwig doesn’t frame it as unrequited love the way other adaptations did. Instead, they’re friends who care deeply for each other having a disagreement because one of them has confused platonic intimacy for romantic love.
In 1994, after the release of Gillian Armstrong’s film adaptation of Little Women, The New York Times ran an essay defending Amy’s behavior and arguing that her worst traits made her the best of the March bunch. “Was there ever a more passive-aggressive trio than those whiny little March sisters, Meg, Jo, and Beth?” asked the writer Caryn James. “Only Amy, the spoiled baby of the family, refuses to beg for attention. She simply accepts it as her due.”
Jo, in the book, eventually admits to admiring Amy’s ambition when both reach adulthood. “I’ll never laugh at you again,” she tells Amy, shortly before Amy departs for Europe. “You are getting on faster than you think, and I’ll take lessons of you in true politeness, for you’ve learned the secret, I believe.”
Gerwig’s Little Women doesn’t include such a tidy revelation scene for Jo. But in reframing the lens through which the story’s told, deepening the dynamic between Jo and Amy, and drawing pivotal elements from the novel for Amy to voice, her film recontextualizes Amy’s role. She’s not just the adorably funny sister cluelessly delivering malapropisms, or the brat running around in an outfit made up of hand-me-downs, or the young woman flirting her way into the heart of Jo’s best friend. In Gerwig’s hands, Amy March is like any younger sibling who grows up to become a complicated, sympathetic figure.
“Greta’s filmmaking is very much about little moments to find the character,” Ronan said, adding that just as siblings take a while to understand one another, fully grasping someone like Amy requires the same effort. “I suppose,” she continued, “it’s all about spending time with her.” Gerwig has, and would happily spend even more time thinking about Amy’s relationships. If only she could find that email.