It’s not my responsibility to worry about whether any male in America would willingly go see Little Women without being dragged there by a female, but I do. This new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1868 novel about an exemplary mother in Civil War-era New England and her four well-adjusted, independent-minded daughters is such a graceful, unsentimental, well-made movie that it would be a damn pity if the thing languished because all the guys in town were blowing their bucks on Dumb and Dumber.
Let me, therefore, point out three big strengths of this film by My Brilliant Career director Gillian Armstrong and screenwriter Robin Swicord, for sisterly consideration. First, the ensemble work is exceptional. Winona Ryder follows her roles in The Age of Innocence and Reality Bites with an Oscar-worthy performance as Jo, the writer who dreams of her own brilliant career (a role made famous by Katharine Hepburn in George Cukor’s glorious 1933 version — one of three previous adaptations); Trini Alvarado (Babe), Claire Danes (TV’s My So-Called Life), and that tough little Interview With the Vampire bloodsucker Kirsten Dunst play sisters Meg, Beth, and Amy with uncommon understanding; and Susan Sarandon is strong and serene as Mrs. March.
Second, Little Women is unself-consciously beautiful in its matter-of-fact attention to detail. Remember the big deal Martin Scorsese made about the look of The Age of Innocence in a watch me, I know about fish forks! kind of way? Armstrong doesn’t make a big fuss about the quilts and teacups that fill her scenes so comfortably, probably because she is on regular speaking terms with domesticity.
And third, this old story is full of contemporary wisdom. ”Nothing provokes speculation more than the sight of a woman enjoying herself,” Mrs. March tells her girls, and they all get her point. So should you, sisters. If you can’t get the man (or boy) in your life to budge, have a girls’ night out with Little Women, and leave ’em guessing at what you enjoyed so much. A