A classic tale, a movie filled with stars...what's not to like?
Quite a lot, actually. I haven't seen this version of Little Women since it came out in theaters, but it's been a free on demand movie so I watched it again. Now remember why I didn't like it.
First, you have Winona Ryder as Jo. Winona is beautiful; Jo wasn't. When you have someone so lovely in this role, you really need to have other beautiful actresses to pull off Meg and Amy. Since this film was apparently by the Winona Ryder Fan Club, she is the best looking of the sisters by far. While Trini Alvarado is pretty, she isn't pretty enough to be Meg when you have Winona as Jo.
That makes every time Jo says something about how she's the least pretty of the sisters come off completely false. When Amy cries out about Jo's hair being Jo's one beauty...are you kidding me? Winona-Jo is gorgeous with or without hair!
Kirsten Dunst does a credible job as young Amy, but Samantha Mathis is a disaster as the older Amy. I don't think this was her first acting gig, but it certainly seemed that way. She was stilted and not very charming. Charm is Amy's best virtue, but you'd never know it to watch Samantha in the role. Her only virtue is that she bears a sibling-like resemblence to Claire Danes, who was the healthiest Beth I've ever seen. That's not a bad thing, in and of itself, and Claire was good at being shy and retiring. But still.
Let me pause for a moment to mention how disgusting it is to observe over the edge of this laptop that Melody is snarfing down a spider she has slain. =\ Anyway...
And then, there is Christian Bale. Ladies of the jury, I ask you: Even if you thought you'd be miserable married to him because he was your best friend, wouldn't you want to wake up to that man? I certainly would! And seeing that he and Winona-Jo are the most beautiful people in the movie, and given how many other aspects of it were changed from the book, they should have continued the blasphemy by having Jo marry Laurie.
Finally, there's all the kissing. I suppose they wanted to jazz things up a bit by having romantic interludes that meant business. Hence, you observe Meg swapping spit with John Brooke (another miserable miscasting...I mean, really...Eric Stoltz?!) in the doorway of her parents' home. And Winona-Jo getting busy with Mr. Bhaer backstage at the opera. WTF?! Jo wouldn't do such a thing!
By the time the end credits were rolling, I was seething with irritation. This is one of my favorite books. I still cry when reading about Beth's passing. While it would be too much to ask for movie makers to film everything exactly as it happens in a book, this version of Little Women misses so many marks.
There are nice things about it. The costumes are lovely and the settings are great. Winona is a very good Jo, other than the fact that she overshadows everyone else in the film besides Susan Sarandon (who is a kick-ass Marmee). It's a visually appealing film. But it's not true in some fundamental ways to the book, and that's a real shame. I'm sure that since the movie came out in 1994, there are little girls who think this is what the book is really like.
What you should do is balance a viewing of this film with the George Cukor version starring Katherine Hepburn. It's not precisely true to the book either, but it gets a lot of the elements right that the 1994 movie completely disregarded. And Ms. Hepburn is completely believable as a gangly girl who doesn't think she's good-looking. Clearly, she is, but it's a challenging beauty that's the perfect fit for a character like Jo.