Director: Clare Niederpruem
Writer: Clare Niederpruem, Kristi Shimek
Based on: Louisa May Alcott’s novel
Cast: Sarah Davenport, Allie Jennings, Melanie Stone, Elise Jones, Taylor Murphy, Lea Thompson, Lucas Grabeel, Ian Bohen, Bart Johnson, Barta Heiner, Stuart Edge, Michael Flynn
Seen on: 10.8.2019
[Here’s my review of the 1994 film.]
Meg (Melanie Stone), Jo (Sarah Davenport), Beth (Allie Jennings) and Amy (Elise Jones) are sisters, living with their mother Marmee (Lea Thompson) 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 (Michael Flynn) grandson Laurie (Lucas Grabeel) moves in with his grandfather, he quickly finds himself included with the girls. Together, they navigate life’s ups and downs.
This take on Little Women is a modernized version of the story, set in the present time. And for the most part, the modernization works perfectly. Other things, not so much. In the end, it’s cute but not quite as good as either the book or the 1994 version.
I was surprised by how well the modernization works here. Some things are easier to deal with, of course, others need a bit more recontextualizing and they really do find good ways to work things out. What didn’t work so well for me is when they tried to make the characters’ motivations a little more explicit than they maybe were. In their attempts they end up with clichés more often than not (like “I don’t want him, but I want him to want me”), as if the authors themselves struggled with understanding the characters.
In many ways, this film is more of an adaptation of the 1994 film than the book itself, which irritated me at times. Especially as they also included Laurie’s promise to one day kiss Amy which is still CREEPY. Generally their love story doesn’t really work here, either. Unlike the 1994 version, Laurie himself falls a little apart – Grabeel’s performance doesn’t quite capture him as a full character.
The biggest change here is the character of Prof. Bhaer (Ian Bohen) who literally becomes Jo’s college professor which is a little questionable in the first place, but he generally falls apart a little as a character when you look at him too closely. Bohen is charming enough to keep everything afloat anyway.
The way Jo grows into herself becomes something very dynamic in this film, an almost active growth, a pushing of herself, rather than a passive wait. I thought that was a nice take on Jo, perfectly embodied by Davenport. She was the best thing about this film for me as she plays Jo with seemingly endless energy that suffuses the entire film and that make it still enjoyable even as it pales in comparison to the book or the 1994 film.