Kirsten Dunst has yet to disappoint me.
Happy New Year!
Do you remember how one of the best parts of going to school was unexpectedly getting to watch a movie in class? I remember watching Schindler’s List (1993) when we learned about the Holocaust, Troy (2004) when we learned about Ancient Greece and even Twister (1996) when we learned about the weather. And of course, because I went to Catholic school, we watched The Prince of Egypt (1998) what felt like four times a year. Which isn’t a complaint because I love The Prince of Egypt and think it’s seriously underrated. Then there were movies we watched simply because they were classic stories or did a wonderful job of showcasing everyday life from a specific time period. Little Women (1994) is a combination of both those types of movies. Seriously, how did I make it through 18 years of school without seeing this or any of the other four film adaptations?
Based on Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel of the same name, Little Women follows the lives of the four March sisters; Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy during and after the American Civil War. The sisters are cared for by their strong and affectionate mother, Marmee, as each one faces her own personal struggles.
I first read “Little Women” for a Children’s Literature class I took my first year in University. I remember being interested in the characters and the story but honestly, I sped through the book without really appreciating it. Having now seen the extremely faithful 1994 version (which was a special Wayback request by the way, feel free to make your own!), I understand why this was a VHS beloved by countless 90s kids. None of whom sped through it, I’m sure. I also understand why 2019 gifted us with a fifth (and acclaimed) film adaptation. No matter the generation you grew up in, Alcott’s story remains wildly relatable. The movie beautifully portrays the story’s themes of personal growth, independence, and first love, showing them in a way that feels simultaneously timeless and modern. If you’re a fan of the book or simply powerful stories of female empowerment, I can’t stress how badly you need to see this movie. It’s an audiobook come to life!
Little Women is a who’s who of 90s actors who were either already famous or on their way to superstardom. Each actor is exactly who’d you expect to be cast in a mid 90s version of Little Women. Susan Sarandon as strong-willed Marmee? Christian Bale as romantic Laurie? Kirsten Dunst as sweet Amy? It’s perfect! Sidenote, I don’t care how little Amy is. As a writer who at that time would have had only one copy of their work, I might not have been as forgiving if Amy had thrown my story in the fire. The cast portrays their characters with the commitment and technique of theatre actors, repeatedly making me think I was watching a filmed version of a Broadway production rather than a Hollywood movie. The cast, especially the titular women, disappear completely into their roles. I don’t see Claire Danes or Winona Ryder. I see Beth and Jo March coming to life onscreen. Every actress is impeccable but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a soft spot for Sarandon. What can I say? Legendary leading ladies showing their rage never fail to bring me to my feet in applause.
Let’s talk about Winona Ryder. I love her. She completely nails the role of Jo, arguably one of literature’s most influential and cherished icons. I mean, an empowered writer who’s more focused on her dreams than marriage? Of course I would love Jo! Bold and nonconformist, Ryder’s Jo is a great interpretation of the character. She effortlessly captures Jo’s tenacious spirit, her longing for something more and her playful relationship with Laurie. Which is so important because Jo and Laurie are an iconic pairing. Casting the duo is key and Ryder and Bale could not be more perfect together. Dashing and charming, Bale is like Ryder’s other half. Their natural chemistry pulls you in and will have you almost hoping that the entire movie were about them. In an already solid movie that is throughly enjoyable, it’s the mesmerizing partnership between Ryder and Bale that’s the cherry on top.
More than anything, Little Women reminds me of another book to screen adaption starring Ryder, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). It’s a faithful adaptation in tone, writing, costumes and set design, but admittedly, I struggled to keep myself interested in the movie. Not because the story was uninteresting. On the contrary. I was fully invested in each of the sister’s storylines and was on pins and needles to see how they would turn out! By the way, I’m still cheesed about the way certain sisters’ stories played out. What dulled my interest though, ironically enough, was how accurate the movie was. From the old-fashioned speech to the simple direction, there were times where I felt like I was watching a historical special on what life was like during the Civil War. Is that a bad thing? not necessarily. But as I said, there were times I could have used more passion and fire from the dialogue and action. It bordered, ever so slightly, on stale.
Like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Little Women is over two hours when it could have been cut down to an hour and a half. I suppose an overly long runtime is the price we pay for faithful book to movie adaptations though, isn’t it? Though the runtime was at times draining, oddly enough I’m still thankful for it. It gives each of these wonderfully well-rounded characters to shine and showcase their different perspectives. The diversity in what each woman is working towards and how ultimately, the bond of family is more important than any of it are what anchor Little Women and what have allowed it to endure all this time.
Little Women is a great little movie. The talent of the actresses playing the March women is superb and reason enough why it’s worth you sitting through yet another adaptation of Alcott’s story. If anything, it’s only made me all the more excited to check out Greta Gerwig’s version. As long as there are as many closeups of kittens in that version as there were in this one. Seriously, the abundance of kittens was unexpected but appreciated!
Are you a fan of any or all adaptations of “Little Women?”
Let me know in the comments or on social media!