Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema: LITTLE WOMEN (1994)

Welcome to the Young Bluestockings discussion of the 1994 film LITTLE WOMEN!

I rewatched this last night, for the first time in a long time, so I have a lot of excited opinions that just want to make their way out.  Particularly because I was absolutely obsessed with Alcott for years (and I still love her.)  At one point I got to the end of Little Women and just started right back in at the beginning...

So...whether you just watched the movie recently, or saw it ten or fifteen years ago just once, please join in the discussion!

Here are some of the cast & crew, to help the discussion along...

Director:  Gillian Armstrong

Marmee:  Susan Sarandon

Meg:  Trini Alvarado

Jo:  Winona Ryder

Beth:  Claire Danes

Child Amy:  Kirsten Dunst

Adult Amy:  Samantha Mathis

Laurie:  Batman   Christian Bale

Mr Brooke:  Eric Stoltz

Mr Bhaer:  Gabriel Byrne

Aunt March:  Mary Wickes

Mr Lawrence:  John Neville

So....what did you think about...the casting?  The script?  The changing the March family to be more like the Alcotts?  The hair and costumes?  Anything else?

All opinions welcome!


Marissa Doyle said...

The man who played Mr. Brooke always bothered me--TOTALLY unlike the way I'd pictured him in my head, and with the wrong manner and demeanor. Beth also seemed off to me.

But yes, Batman...er, Mr. Bale was adorable as Laurie. And I though Kirsten Dunst was a very good young Amy.

Regina Scott said...

As I mentioned when Cara posted her selection of the movie, I had never seen it before. I thought it did a very good job of capturing the feel of the book, that warmth among sisters and mother, that desire to find one's place in the world. Like Laurie, I wanted to be a March!

I never had biological sisters and missed them a great deal growing up. Then I was blessed with a set of very good friends whom I consider sisters. I even lost one of them, which is one of the reasons I balled my head off when Beth passed. And I ended up marrying an older man who appreciated my writing more then the young men who courted me.

Gosh, do you think I took it too personally? :-)

The one criticism I will level concerns the aunt's house. Here are Jo, Marmee, and Meg walking through this charming Victorian--hardwood floors, lovely interior, friendly exterior--and Jo is complaining she's inherited it! Four words--Give. Me. That. House. I promise not to complain. :-)

Cara King said...

Regina, I told my husband Todd last night that reading Little Women obsessively as a child might have affected me more than I'd realized -- because why else would I have ended up marrying a professor? ;-)

Marissa, I agree that the Mr Brooke in the movie didn't much resemble that in the book. That said, if I set out to write a screenplay for Little Women, I might end up making the same choices... I don't think Mr B in the book has that much personality (beyond being Very Very Good and Patient), so when it comes to "why are he and Meg a good match?" one could go off of Meg's traits -- she's very traditional about gender roles, for example, and always scolding her sisters (especially Jo)..so I might have ended up with a Mr B who was a tad stodgy and rigid. :-)

Cara King said...

Okay, my take on it: I rewatched it last night, and I LOVED and 3/4 of it, and thought the rest didn't really work.

Loved: Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, and Christian Bale.

Dunst is just a kid but she shines with so much personality and life...no wonder she became a big star. (Though I wish Dunst nowadays had half the charm she had here! I guess I like her better in funny and energetic characters, not mopey ones.)

Sarandon is just SUCH a good actress...and she brings so much here in between the lines. Amazing performance, and so understated.

Bale just shines with star power. (And as with Dunst, where did it all go? Don't hide your smile and liveliness, Christian! Don't keep playing characters with one facial expression and a monotone and a ton of brooding!)

And on balance I think I liked the adding all the Alcott stuff to the story (parents being fringe folks politically and crusading for all sorts of causes) because I think it fits. Some of that is sort of in the subtext of the book, and other bits are explicit in some of her other children's books (especially Eight Cousins...)

Cara King said...

Oh, and one thing I think is fascinating is that the movie when watched as a whole seems to highlight one quiet theme of the books, to wit:

In the first half, life is difficult: they're poor, their father is away and then wounded, war is on, Beth nearly dies, Jo can't please anyone, the sisters fight and Jo nearly kills Amy...

But then in the second half when the sisters are older, everyone realizes that they were much happier before, in their difficult times...because they were together. They knew who they were, they lived amongst family, and something was always happening. I think Alcott's own nostalgia and melancholy for the past underlie a LOT of the book, and the movie really brought that out.

QNPoohBear said...

I think I'm the only person who disliked this movie. I didn't have a chance to watch it again nor did I wish to. I didn't feel like hunting for the VCR in the basement anyway. I disliked this movie so much when it came out. It was horribly miscast. Winona Ryder made the movie to honor a child from her home town who was kidnapped and murdered. The child's favorite book was Little Women. I get that. That's fine. I don't like that she got cast as Jo. She was too well-known (she was already in the tabloids- same with Samantha Mathis grown up Amy) and just too modern. I don't see her as Jo at all. I don't think she's a particularly good actress though I enjoyed her movies in my teen years. I wanted to be Jo! I always thought Kirsten Dunst was obnoxious. Katherine Hepburn is a much better Jo. She was Jo in real life more or less. That version of the movie has it's awkward moments and a very strange Laurie but I thought it was cute.

One thing that stands out about the second half of the movie in my mind is Laurie turning into a drunkard. He specifically DOES NOT in the book because of Jo's influence. I also got the impression that movie Laurie just wanted to be part of the March family any way he could and seducing Amy was his only option. While that part of the book is left out, there's a bit more bonding going on in the novel.

Mostly though, I think my problem is that I've been to Concord and Louisa's home and know so much about the Alcotts and that time period. I strongly identify with Louisa/Jo. The movie just didn't match my imagination. It also didn't help that Anne of Green Gables and Road to Avonlea set the bar REALLY high. (even if Anne the Sequel borrowed scenes from Good Wives.)

QNPoohBear said...

P.S. Everyone rush out and read The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly. It's an amazing modern retelling of the March descendants. What if Jo was a real person and there was no such thing as Little Women the novel? What if her modern descendant found Jo's letters in the attic? The letters read like they could have been written by Louisa.

Cara King said...

I find your take on it fascinating, QNPoohBear!

Oh, and I totally agree with this: "I also got the impression that movie Laurie just wanted to be part of the March family any way he could and seducing Amy was his only option." That was really pretty creepy in the movie -- at one point, Laurie even pretty basically says he'd be happy to marry any of them! Not very flattering, and not much like the vain Amy to put up with that! :-)

Thanks for the Donnelly recommendation, BTW! Sounds fascinating...

Todd Brun said...

The obvious moral: professors make the best husbands. Need more be said? Well, OK.

I actually liked Winona Ryder's Jo. I think part of the reason is that I didn't read the book obsessively growing up, so I didn't have strong preconceptions of the characters. I thought she did the humor and energy of the character well, and also the underlying uncertainty.

But I agree that Susan Sarandon outshone everyone in the movie, and Kirsten Dunst was funny and charming.


Cara King said...

Yep, that's Christian Bale, Bruce Wayne himself, young and romantic. Strange, isn't it? Even better, check out him singing and dancing in Newsies!