One fact about me that might surprise you is I was actually a late reader. My strabismus in my eyes makes it hard for me to focus; thereby making reading difficult. I would say I was 7 or 8 when I really learned to read, which isn’t unheard of, but a little late (especially because my kindergarten teachers were ‘you must read at 5’ gestapo).
Once I caught on to reading I loved it and dove in and the first book I remember being proud of finishing was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It was emotional and I could relate to each of the girls in special ways especially Jo. Her and Anne of Green Gables were the heroes of my childhood!
Over the years there have been many film versions of Little Women including a classic from 1933 with Kathryn Hepburn, wonderful version from 1994 starring Winona Ryder and a ridiculous 1949 take with a grown Elizabeth Taylor playing a blonde little girl Amy. Now we have a supposedly “modern telling” of the story from director and writer Clare Niederpruem and it, unfortunately, was very disappointing.
I honestly had high hopes for this adaptation because Niederpruem did a lovely little film in 2015 called Once I Was a Beehive. It handled themes and messaging much better than many faith-based films and was well made and acted. I was also hopeful I would love it because I did not care for the recent PBS version of Little Women. Evidently it’s just not my year for Little Women in film!
Let me start off with some strengths. I like the idea of modernizing Little Women and telling the 4 sister’s stories with a modern sensibility (one of my favorite movies is Clueless which does that brilliantly with updating Jane Austen’s Emma). There are also some nice moments between the girls and overall the movie looked nice.
I also enjoyed Lea Thompson as Marmee (even though it is a little strange that the Lawrences and everyone calls her Marmee instead of Mrs March). She wasn’t in the movie that much (I’m guessing they only had her on site for a few days) but when she appears there is a warmth that is required for Marmee (who is basically the perfect Mother of fiction).
I also thought Allie Jennings did a good job with Beth and Ian Bohen was pretty dishy as our Professor Bhaer (just called Freddy here).
My problem mostly lies with the script. The choices they made to ‘modernize’ the characters were frustrating. Jo (Sarah Davenport) isn’t the free spirit I know and love. In here she’s a bully who is mean, entitled and insulting to everyone around her. This is the only version I’ve seen where I felt like Jo deserved to have her journal burned by Amy. All Amy had done is ask to go to a movie with them and Jo proceeds to insult Amy’s art and call her names. She does that repeatedly throughout the film, and I honestly wanted someone to slap her and get her off screen! To say she is insufferable is being kind.
And then the choices they made for Meg (Melanie Stone) were baffling. For some reason they have all the girls being homeschooled and it’s never really explained why? I’m a huge homeschool advocate so that normally wouldn’t be a problem but here they use it as a reason for why Meg is socially awkward. Instead of just wanting to fit in with the cool kids she dresses in a skanky dress, gets drunk and is nearly assaulted by a boy at a school dance. I guess this could be a way to update the Sally Moffatt party but it was executed in a clunky way that did not fit the movie at all.
The debates between Meg, over her domestic dreams, and Jo, over her feminist ideals, were also hard to get through. Feminism done right is about embracing all forms of womanhood and empowering girls to lead whatever life they want. We needed Marmee in these scenes explaining this to Jo and being warm and loving. Instead it was a strange shouting match.
Laurie played by Lucas Grabeel was also a miss. There was no chemistry between him and Jo and the relationship with Amy (Elise Jones and Taylor Murphy) was rushed. Also for various reasons, I thought they were going to make him gay, which would have been an interesting take on the character, but they didn’t so that felt strange.
I also hated the non-linear structure of the movie. Similar to movies like Man of Steel it flashes back and forth to different times in the girls lives. This hurt momentum and didn’t allow the scenes to build off of each other. They also made the choice to go with 2 different Amys (which many do) but if you are going to do that, a flashback structure is awkward (also they use the younger Amy in scenes that don’t make sense if they are using 2).
In the end, I’m sad I didn’t like Little Women. I wanted to like it. I wanted to champion a sweet locally filmed movie and tell you all to hunt it down. Sadly I cannot. Jo was just too much of a jerk for me to recommend.
If any of you see it let me know what you think and what is your favorite version of Little Women?