Little Women (1994)

"Movie Magazine International" Review

(Air Date: Week Of 12/21/94)

By Monica Sullivan

The title alone suggests demureness and docility, two characteristics which were absolutely antithetical to its author, Louisa May Alcott, a strong woman of the nineteenth century who was determined to make her living, not as a servant or as a seamstress, but as a writer. It has been reported that the author found "Little Women" a bore to write and that the values in the book belong to her educator father and not to herself, but she did achieve her dream of making her living as a writer.

In the latest version of "Little Women", dedicated to the memory of Polly Klaas, Winona Ryder makes a delightful Jo March for 90's audiences & she is well supported by Gabriel Byrne in one of his best performances as Professor Bhaer. Meg, Beth and Amy are effectively played by Trini Alvarado, Claire Danes and Samantha Mathis, although Kirsten Dunst, so good as Claudia in "Interview With The Vampire", is the most adorable of the bunch as twelve-year-old Amy March. (Alas, a great scene in which she is abused by a schoolmaster apparently wound up on the cutting room floor, although it made the cut in precious movies and is referred to here. Maybe we'll get to see it in the restored video release. This is one 110 minute movie I wouldn't have minded being 10 minutes longer.)

Christain Bale is the best Laurie ever cast in the role and it's a treat to see Mary Wickes, now 82, still slugging out those lines as Aunt March 53 years after her feisty debut in "The Man Who Came To Dinner". As for the rest of the characters, well, here is where you miss the Oscar-winning 1933 screenplay by Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heernan. Robin Swicord's new script has some wonderful stuff in it and recreates favourite sequences from the original novel unrecorded on film before. But every so often, especially in the case of Susan Sarandon's character as Marmee, it slips into revisionist dialogue clearly calculated for late twentieth century ears. Certainly Louisa May Alcott's family was a progressive family, but for its era, not our own. There is plenty of material in her book that expresses nineteenth century feminism in far more convincing terms than Swicord's anachronistic departures.

Mr. March, a key figure in the book and previous versions, is reduced to a walk-on here, Eric Stoltz is wasted as Meg's love John Brooke and Mr. Laurence, an extremely critical character, is sketchily developed and badly cast. (The multifaceted Sir Alec Guiness would have been a better choice than an iceberg like John Neville.) Gillian Armstrong's obvious affection for the material gives a special glow to the girls' homemade theatrical entertainments and their romps in the snow with Laurie. After seeing her altogether worthy successor to George Cukor's "Little Women", you may want to check out the 1933 movie on video.

Copyright 1994 Monica Sullivan

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