Director: Gillian Armstrong
Writer: Robin Swicord
Based on: Louisa May Alcott’s novel
Cast: Winona Ryder, Trini Alvarado, Samantha Mathis, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Susan Sarandon, Christian Bale, Eric Stoltz, Gabriel Byrne, John Neville, Mary Wickes, Florence Paterson
Seen on: 10.8.2019
Meg (Trini Alvarado), Jo (Winona Ryder), Beth (Claire Danes) and Amy (Kirsten Dunst) are sisters, living with their mother Marmee (Susan Sarandon) as their father is off fighting in the war. Their lives are spent working or studying and trying to help the even poorer people in the neighborhood. In their sparetime, they like to play creatively. When their neighbor Mr. Lawrence’s (John Neville) grandson Laurie (Christian Bale) moves in with his grandfather, he quickly finds himself included with the girls. Together, they navigate life’s ups and downs.
There was a time when I was a teenager that I was very much obsessed with this film and I watched it quite a few times. But it took me until now to finally read the novel and it’s been many years that I saw the film, so I looked at it now with fresh eyes. I still love it, but I do see a couple of things more critically now.
The film is very close to the book in many ways. But it does deviate in some points. The biggest modernization was probably in the way Marmee becomes a feminist heroine here who doesn’t just fight for the equality of (her) girls, but also against slavery and against child labor in China and who knows what else. I am pretty sure that Alcott would have been surprised by that interpretation of her character, but I did enjoy it.
The other big deviation is the love story between Laurie and Amy, and unfortunately here the changes were not for the better in my opinion. That Laurie promises Amy that he will kiss her some day when she’s just a child, doesn’t read as romantic (love is fate!) to me, but as creepy. And the way their relationship changes to romance required me to draw on my knowledge of the book a lot to really make it work for me.
But other than that (and that Bhaer becomes a tad too sanctimonious), I really enjoyed the film again. It is super charming and even makes the cheesy parts (and there are many of those) work. The cast is great, especially the sisters (although, really, Ryder is way too pretty to be Jo), but also Bale and Byrne (the perfect Bhaer) are fantastic.
The film managed to draw me in again as it did when I was a teenager. It has a great sense of energy and an emotional core that seems inescapable: I can’t imagine that you can watch this film without feeling it.
Summarizing: a great adaptation of a great classic.