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Laura Dern Joins the Already Star-Studded ‘Little Women’ Cast

Hopefully Dern will play a certain awesome motherly figure in Greta Gerwig’s new adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic.
Laura Dern Wild
By  · Published on August 15th, 2018

Hopefully Dern will play a certain awesome motherly figure in Greta Gerwig’s new adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic.

The cast of Greta Gerwig’s upcoming adaptation of Little Women is a white-hot (ha, puns) list of who’s who in Hollywood. We can celebrate the likes of Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth), and James Norton (War and Peace) for their currency and freshness, or cheer for some more established folks like Emma Stone (La La Land) and Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird). Or just bow down to Meryl Streep.

Basically, there’s no denying that every single person involved in the project can act and do so phenomenally. I don’t doubt that they’ll be able to mesh well together as an ensemble too. A formidable cast only deserves equally stunning additions to maintain that quality balance. And with roles still left to fill in Little Women, are we really surprised that Laura Dern of Big Little Lies fame is being courted for the project?

While The Hollywood Reporter, which dropped the news, notes that Dern’s hiring isn’t set in stone for the time being, we can already imagine that Big Little Lies Season 2 reunion between her and Streep on the Little Women set. THR remains mum on Dern’s potential role in the film, but all signs point to her playing Marmee, the loving mother of the March sisters who is the ideal role model for her daughters as they come of age.

Little Women, based on Louisa May Alcott’s eponymous 1868 novel, is all about the Marches. The story begins with four teenaged girls and their mother who try to make ends meet while their father is serving in the Civil War. As they grow into adulthood and strike out on their own, the March sisters cultivate relationships, careers, and families, learning about their strengths and weaknesses along the way.

In an LA Times article that first confirmed Streep’s addition to the Little Women cast, producer Robin Swicord – also the writer of the 1994 film adaptation starring Winona Ryder, Christian Bale, and Susan Sarandon – mentioned that Gerwig’s project would be a more thematically driven version of Alcott’s novel. Gerwig’s movie would have a more fluid timeline than other more traditional translations. Swicord stated:

“It’s really taking a look at what it is for a young woman to enter the adult world. […] It’s very adult and interesting and thoughtful…and, of course, given the material, it’s always going to be romantic.”

At this point, excluding Gerwig’s movie, Alcott’s original text has been adapted for film five times. On the small screen, it has been made into four serials and one miniseries. Finally, the novel has also been turned into an assortment of stage plays, musicals, audio drama, and even a web series.

Now, the universality of Little Women‘s themes can absolutely continue to inspire adaptation. Still, other versions notwithstanding, another very recent take on the book already aired in 2018 prior to the announcement of Gerwig’s film. The three-part BBC series starring Emily Watson, Maya Hawke, and Angela Lansbury serves as a faithful period drama compared to the book, and we don’t really need more of the same thing to hit cinemas next year.

Hence, the promise of a fresher, more malleable perspective in Gerwig’s Little Women is definitely noteworthy. Her keenness to explore the weighty emotional side of the material contrasts with more didactic approaches to the text that have ended up onscreen. After Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird, and even movies that she co-wrote in the years prior such as Frances Ha and Mistress America, we can trust that she knows what she’s doing when it comes to depicting growing pains to discerning and unflinching degrees.

In relation to how this could affect Dern’s potential role as Marmee, there isn’t much to worry about. Per Swicord, the latest Little Women will begin when the Marches leave the nest and figure out life on their own terms. Nevertheless, they take their mother’s lessons with them and she is still very much a part of their lives amidst expanding social circles and job opportunities. Plus, the apparent utilization of flashbacks and nonlinear storytelling will more than likely provide Little Women with ample opportunity to explore the character’s importance to her daughters, particularly as the emotional rock of the family unit.

Recent Dern efforts are definitely emotionally charged, yet also more than a little formidable. Renata Klein in Big Little Lies is absolutely batshit, but she still has dimension. Back in 2011, Dern starred in a different HBO vehicle titled Enlightened, wherein she played a 40-year-old woman who has fucked up a lot. Her character, Amy Jellicoe, suffered from an imploding personal life which landed her in a rehab facility. However, toeing the line of being a relatable mess is Dern’s forte.

We as audiences can see the way Dern relishes the almost unforgiving nature of these characters. However, the twist of her playing someone so genuinely kind isn’t far out of the realm of possibility at all. Not just because she is sunshine personified in real life either. The proof is in projects like Wild and The Fault in Our Stars.

Frankly, Dern is criminally underused in The Fault in Our Stars as an understanding and concerned parent of a terminally ill child, but I get it. That’s not her movie to shine in. Wild, on the other hand, is a particularly cutting assessment of grief due to the strength of its true mother-daughter bond. We literally weep for Dern’s portrayal of Cheryl Strayed’s mother not just because losing a loved one to cancer is fundamentally sad. Instead, director Jean-Marc Vallée, co-star Reese Witherspoon, and Dern herself craft a close relationship for the audience to root for and relate to.

Make no mistake that we are more than happy to keep Feeling the Dern should she land a role in Little Women and continue world domination. Marmee would be in the best hands with Dern, and she fits right in alongside the rest of Little Women’s exceptional cast.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)