Projections - Movie Reviews

Little Women

Louisa May Alcott's treasured classic Little Women is beautifully brought to life in Director Gillian Armstrong's (My Brilliant Career) latest effort.  This is a spirited account of the four March sisters' adventurous journey from girlhood to womanhood in Civil War New England.  As an anonymous contemporary of Alcott said of the author, "She unlatches the door of one house and ... all find it is their own house which they enter."

This film is gloriously uplifting.  The story, although written in another space in time, easily travels across the generations with its timeless themes of family love and feminine independence.  Mrs. "Marmee" March was well before her time in recognizing the intellectual potential of her daughters and in nurturing their individual talents.  In casting Susan Sarandon in this role - an actress known for her strength and earthiness, Armstrong was able to prevent "Marmee" from becoming a cliched, inaccessible character.  "Susan is the 90's version of the mother we'd all like to be" says Armstrong.  Sarandon delivers an excellent performance as the mother whose love for her "little women" is reserved yet palpable.

Winona Ryder is so natural as Jo March that one may intuitively feel that she is Jo March.  This character, revered for generations for her many charms, is a lovely presence in the film who will inspire audiences with her sense of identity and motivation.  By following her deepest yearnings, she makes a life journey which is rewarding, yet not always easy or comfortable.  And, I think it is this reality which is most important to the film.  Above all, Jo is authentic.  Her search for a raison d'etre, true love, autonomy and self-awareness is universally appealing.  Little Women is one of the best sellers of all time and has been translated into over 30 languages.

While Ryder and Sarandon are the film's main stars, each of the March sisters - Meg (Trini Alvarado), Amy (played by young Kirsten Dunst and a more mature Samantha Mathis), and Beth (Claire Danes) added immeasurably to the quality of the film.  I was most struck by Claire Dane's depiction of the fragile Beth.  She brought a real sensitivity to her performance, successfully capturing the spiritual quality of the young girl.

Gabriel Byrne was the lovable, supportive Professor Bhaer whose passion for literature, self- expression and philosophy is shared by the similarly inclined Jo.  Their relationship is a delightful progression which I greatly admired.  In depicting this relationship, Alcott showed her enlightened view of the male/female relationship as one of equity and mutual enhancement.

Mary Wickes (Sister Act) portrays Aunt March, the crotchety, self-indulgent, rich old lady for whom first Jo, then Amy serve as companions.  Wickes' comic flair made her a perfect choice for this role.

Little Women is appealing on many levels - it offers a beautiful, inspiring story, lovely indoor and outdoor surroundings and an extremely talented cast led by Winona Ryder.  I highly recommend this movie to people of all ages as a refreshing break from the holiday hustle and bustle.

Little Women


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