Little Women (1994) Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Samantha Mathis, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Christian Bale Movie Review

Little Women (1994)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Susan Sarandon and Trini Alvarado in Little Women (1994)

Little Women a Classic Novel a Classic Movie

When it comes to movies there is one genre of movie which I generally stay clear off, that being period dramas especially those which are based on a piece of classic literature, which makes it all the more surprising that I really like the 1994 movie "Little Women", a period drama adapted from the famous novel written by Louisa May Alcott. The combination of the story telling, the cast and for the most the natural flow makes "Little Women" such an enjoyable movie, full of charm and a certain amount of intrigue. Whilst I can't say whether it is a faithful adaptation of the famous novel, having never read it, "Little Women" the movie most definitely is good entertainment.

Whilst their father is away serving in the Civil War sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March along with their mother grow up forced to live in reduced circumstances than they were once use to. Though not well off the sisters despite their squabbles and occasional tantrums are close, a bond which remains as the girls transcend from childhood to womanhood as men start to enter their lives and tragedy befalls the March household.

Winona Ryder and Christian Bale in Little Women (1994)

If you've never read the novel "Little Women" it's not the easiest of movies to explain because it doesn't sound like much really happens and being called "Little Women" with a strong female cast screams out chick-flick. But then it isn't by any means a chick-flick rather a tale of four sisters, all surprisingly independent and all with various temperaments from the feisty Jo through to the more demure Meg. It's the tale of their close relationship and the path they take from being girls to women and the events which befall them. That probably still makes "Little Women" sound quite like a chick-flick but it is a movie full of drama, emotion and charm, more charm than you would probably expect as it leads you into their world and their lives championing each of them as they change from girls to women.

One of the first things you notice about "Little Women" is the cinematography which captures the era beautifully, from the opening wintry scenes through to autumnal hues. It is a marvellous warm visual experience and along with the wonderful set designs be it in the March's home in Concord or through to the more bustling New York it transports you to the post civil war era. Add to this the stunning score by Thomas Newman and "Little Women" easily charms you before anything of any importance happens. All though it's not a Christmas movie, those opening scenes where Concord is covered in snow and the March sisters head out on Christmas Day singing "Here We Come A-Wassailing" are some of my favourite Christmas scenes from a movie.

What also helps is that "Little Women" comes across different to many movies which seem to go through a formulaic structure. Where usually you would get a series of scenes which try to establish the various characters as individuals here you get a more natural flow where we are immersed into the March family and meet the four sisters and their mother as a whole allowing the differences between each character to present itself in a more natural way. The same happens with all the characters which end up becoming part of the story; they are naturally introduced as they slowly enter the world of the March family. It's not a huge thing but just by doing this gives "Little Women" a completely different feel rather like getting immersed in a good book rather than a structured movie.

It is though the wonderful performances which really makes "Little Women" such an enchanting movie and it's Winona Ryder's performance as Jo which really stands out. It's such a brilliant performance delivering the feisty, head strong nature of Jo yet also giving it a little fragile side. It's such a natural performance giving Jo so much charm and naturalness and although not required it is a performance from Ryder which is strong enough to carry the movie on her own. But there is also a lovely balance that whilst Jo is the pivotal character the other sisters, Meg played by Trini Alvarado, Beth played by Claire Danes and Amy played by Kirsten Dunst in her early years and then Samantha Mathis in her later life all give "Little Women" something different so that it doesn't feel like a one woman show. Plus there is of course the wonderful motherly performance from Susan Saranadon as the March Matriarch Marmee.

But although "Little Women" has a strong female cast it's not just about the women and there are some wonderful male performances. Eric Stoltz is humorously quirky as John Brooke a private tutor and John Neville adds classical gravitas as Mr. Laurence. But the real stand out male performances comes from Christian Bale as Laurie and Gabriel Byrne as Friedrich Bhaer, both helping to make "Little Women" a lot more than you would expect, taking the storyline off in directions that unless you had read the novel you wouldn't expect.

"Little Women" is by no means a perfect movie and at a times it does come across a little sickly sweet, full of ramped up sentiment designed to draw emotion from the audience. It works but it does have that little feeling of being too manufactured in places rather than natural. The other issue is the unfortunate change in casting when the movie skips a few years and Kirsten Dunst understandably makes way for Samantha Mathis to play the older version of Amy. Visually it's not a terrible change but the change in character is such a contrast that it's hard to accept.

What this all boils down to is that "Little Women" is a surprising movie which will charm the socks of you with its developing storyline, the wonderful performances and the combination of cinematography and musical score. It is certainly not a chick-flick and not just a simplistic tale of girls becoming women; it has drama, passion and humour all feeling completely natural. But more importantly being a period drama it doesn't have that stuffy feeling which ends up putting me off such movies. If you've never read the book or have been put off "Little Women" because of how it looks, a period chick-flick, then I would say give it a go as you will most likely be surprised as well as charmed.

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