Retrospective Review: Little Women

Year: 1994

Runtime: 115 Minutes

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Writer: Louisa May Alcott (novel), Robin Swicord (screenplay)  

Stars: Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Trini Alvarado, Claire Danes

By Kristy Strouse

Watching “Little Women” (1994) is sort of like coming home. Regardless of the period (1868 I believe) or place, the film reinstates a level of comfort felt when I saw the movie as a child. How I perceived the movie changed as I grew older, but watching it was a yearly viewing for me. Another tether? I felt innately like Jo (Winona Ryder), trying to find my own truth, regardless of societal or gender constraints, and just wanting to write.

Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 film that adapts Louisa May Alcott’s novel, portrays the March family, especially the four March girls, in a way that’s maintained credibility and resonance over the years. The adaptation is loyal in the sense that these characters are portrayed with the same warmth as they are read. At times the movie can almost feel a little cheesy, and there are plenty of revisions from the source material, but it’s excusable because of the genuineness of the characters.

littel wom

“Watching “Little Women” (1994) is sort of like coming home. Regardless of the period (1868 I believe) or place, the film reinstates a level of comfort felt when I saw the movie as a child.”

The film has a star-studded cast that each bring their own sense of humanity and take on femininity to the role. Headstrong Marmee (Susan Sarandon) is the matriarch of the household, trying to take care of her four girls while their father is at war. She teaches her children to be strong, independent and kind, despite their shortcomings as women in a time when men were given more room to be. When we start off it’s Christmas, and with that comes a mix of joy and sorrow. There is no shortage of selflessness with the March family, and that sort of comradery makes it a comfort to watch.

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The oldest Meg (Trini Alvarado) is traditional and wants to be like the other girls her age and find a suitor for marriage. Josephine (Winona Ryder) is more playful and free-spirited, not worried about marriage as a future necessity. She’s always creating stories and acting out her plays with her sisters. Beth (Claire Danes) is loving, gentle, and ultimately just wants to help others. The youngest, and most strident Amy (played young by Kirsten Dunst and older as Samantha Mathis) is certain of her eventual marital status, despite her age.

We watch as time goes on and the struggling family grows. Through hardships, heartbreaks and sisterly bonding, “Little Women” delivers a heartening and visually beautiful coming of age film. You feel like you’re in the time, amongst these changing girls. Each of these strong women have varying personalities, and that snapshot of females coming to age doesn’t always make the screen. These resilient and diverse women are all empowering to watch. Female coming of age had especially not been portrayed in such an effective way, especially at the time of its release, and it’s relatable even now. Robin Swicord wrote the screenplay and it stays true to the spirit of the story. There’s also an abundance of humour worked in throughout the film, balancing out the tragedies and life lessons admirably.

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“Little Women” delivers a heartening and visually beautiful coming of age film. You feel like you’re in the time, amongst these changing girls.”

Each of the sisters make different choices but always find their way back to one another. Their closeness is admirable, and quite contagious. It’ll make you want to go hug a sibling, or frolic in the snow with wild abandon. Mostly though, it’s a dose of holiday hearth that might require a tissue occasionally, but ultimately warms the way a soothing fire does on a winter’s day.

Some of the male supporting roles (and love interests) like Laurie (Christian Bale) John Brook (Eric Stoltz) and Friedrich (Gabriel Byrne) are all wonderful additions. The casting of the film still remains one of the strongest parts of this ensemble film, with Ryder being especially compelling. As the willful Jo, we’re truly given a character who fights for what she wants, loves and lives fiercely, and can still find moments to be silly. There’s an independence in that which is too rarely brought to screen with such veracity.

little women

This has already been adapted many times, and with Greta Gerwig’s newest set to release soon, it’ll be interesting to see how it lands. This isn’t a new story, but its timelessness works to her advantage. She’s no stranger to female encompassing tales of youth, so I’m hopeful. Still, the magic brought to the screen here is hard to recreate.

Rating: 3.5 Out of 5 Stars

 

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