movie film review | chris tookey

Little Women

Columbia Pictures Corporation - all rights reserved
  Little Women Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
7.00 /10
Winona Ryder , Susan Sarandon, Trini Alvarado
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Directed by: Gillian Armstrong
Written by: Robin Swicord, from Louisa May Alcott's novel

Released: 1994
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Length: 118


While father is away at war, Marmie (Susan Sarandon) struggles to bring up four diverse daughters - beautiful, conservative Meg (Trini Alvarado), spirited Jo (Winona Ryder), good but fragile Beth (Claire Danes) and brattish, romantic Amy (played by Kirsten Dunst at 12, Samantha Mathis at 16). As they grow from girls into young women, they suffer various heartbreaks and adventures, including romantic excursions with the boy next door (Christian Bale), his stuffy tutor (Eric Stoltz) and a handsome German professor fallen on hard times (Gabriel Byrne).

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Here is another chance to wallow in the ideal home life of the Marches, a poor but honest New England family surviving the years of the American Civil War. Louisa May Alcott wrote her novel in 1868, and it is as sweet and stirring today as ever it was.
Gillian Armstrong's film is sumptuously produced, and its classic story is full of incident and emotion. Few will be able to sit through it without shedding a tear.
Unfortunately, Marmee (Susan Sarandon) has been given anachronistically feminist sentiments with which to hector her daughters. The adaptors of the 1933 version were more faithful to the novel's Victorian virtues.
Alongside the 90s political correctness is an annoying degree of literary incorrectness. Jo is supposed to be a Dickens fanatic, and yet she refers to Smee in Nicholas Nickleby, when she means Smike (Smee is, of course, a pirate in Peter Pan). Later, she talks of Dombey and Sons when she means Dombey and Son. In a film where so much attention has been paid to minutiae of costume and setting, it remains a mystery how such howlers were allowed to slip through.
Some of the storytelling is rushed. The next-door neighbour (John Neville) changes from being a snobbish old curmudgeon to twinkly prospective father-in-law without explanation; and the tensions between sisters are not exploited for their full dramatic value. The result is a little too much like a Christmas card version of family life.
Even so, this is a beautiful, heartwarming film. Winona Ryder is much too gorgeous to play the Jo of the novel, and she was played in the 1933 film by Katharine Hepburn with a more tomboyish ferocity; but Ryder compensates with a lovely, fresh spontaneity of her own. She deserved to win an Oscar.
The rest of the acting is almost as strong, with the young British actor Christian Bale especially effective as Jo's youthful beau. The scene where he proposes to her is the most moving in the film.
It is a special pleasure to watch a picture in which the worst swear-word is "Blast!" and good-heartedness, moral responsibility and love of family are celebrated with such sincerity. Some men may find it a little too girlish and goody-goody to be true; but women, whether little or large, should love it.
Thomas Newman's somewhat sucrose score was Oscar-nominated, as was Colleen Attwood's impeccable costume design.

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