There are some stories that are so universal, so timeless, that they span horizons and bind generations together with one another. Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women is one such story. No matter where or when you grew up, whether you had sisters or brothers, there is much to own in the story of the March sisters as they navigate family, love, heartbreak, and ambition. I think it’s safe to say this is why so many versions of this book have been made, and why a new one releases today.
In Little Women, starring Lea Thompson shepherding the March sisters as Marmee, we are once again journeying with these women but as we may see them today: cell phones in hand, proms to attend, and colleges to explore. While admittedly skeptic at first, I was quickly won over by the chemistry between actresses Sarah Davenport, Melanie Stone, Allie Jennings, and Elise Jones and Taylor Murphy as Jo, Meg, Beth, younger/older Amy respectively. It was as if I had been granted an inside look into the dynamics of this family, each woman clearly different from their peers and at different stages in accepting, coping, or even rebelling against their circumstances.
There was much that I enjoyed in this film, but feel that I must air one main grievance first. While Jo is regularly portrayed as antsy, independent, and easily annoyed, this version took it over the top. There were some scenes that almost tipped the scale against her favor because she was so blatantly rude and hurtful. Jo is always brutally honest and lives with her heart on her sleeve when it comes to what she thinks is right, but the bickering between her and Amy was taken to a degree I felt unnecessary and distracting. There is a difference between “stubborn” and “mean,” and, while we often are all guilty of blurring that distinction, I felt it happened too often with this particular script.
That being said, there was much to love about this retelling of such a poignant story, and it will make a great parent/daughter move night option. The plot followed the trajectory of how Jo is determined to be a famous writer, and how her sisters choose (or are forced) very different paths, so nothing new there. But this time things didn’t flow chronologically. The current moments transition into flashbacks and vice versa and, while there are some movies where I don’t think it works, I’m happy to say I didn’t have a problem with it at all with this film. It also helped that the music was wonderful, the lighting and scenery whimsical yet believable, and the cast included High School Musical alum Lucas Grabeel as Laurie and Ian Bohen as Professor “Freddy” Bhaer, who were perfect for their roles.
This film is an opportunity to introduce new “little women” to this classic story. I understand that it may be difficult to see such beloved characters set in today’s world, but I think it’s important that we risk what is safe in order for a new generation to see a glimpse of themselves it in such characters. It was easy for me to appreciate how the intent of the original story was delivered and maintained even though the setting and style was so different. Jo is still Jo, and we desperately want to see her succeed. Her persistence in spite of failure, the depth of her love for her sisters, and her willingness to recognize and admit when she is wrong are her strongest traits, and they are far from lost in this film. To me, Jo’s journey with her family isn’t limited to a particular date and space in time, and is something that perhaps we can use to guide us as we grow up as well.