Filmed in and around Victoria, British Columbia, an afternoon’s ferry ride away from where I live, this version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic stars Winona Ryder in her career-best performance as Jo March. For all of the hoopla surrounding her status as the “It Girl” of the 90s, this was the one role that should have earned her an Academy Award (she received a Best Actress nomination). The magical cast includes Susan Sarandon as Marmee, Clare Danes as the ill-fated Beth, Trini Alvarado as prim-and-proper Meg, a very young Kirsten Dunst sharing the role of Amy with Samantha Mathis, Gabriel Byrne as Professor Friedrich, Eric Stoltz as the tutor Meg marries, the late comic actress Mary Wickes as Aunt March and Christian Bale as Laurie. There has, at no other time in history, been such a completely perfect cast assembled to deliver breath and life to Alcott’s beloved characters.
|Call the neighbours! Spreading Christmas cheer|
|Bale (Laurie) and Ryder (Jo)|
|Bale with Mathis (Amy)|
Perhaps the film’s most endearing quality is how genuine the relationships are. These aren’t actors playacting a clan, they somehow interact in such a way that they might have been of the same biological parents, or were separated at birth and brought together by Columbia Pictures. Alcott’s work might have been prone to melodrama, given the saga and cycle of births, deaths, long-term illnesses, marriages, graduations and other life-altering events one should expect in family sagas, but her genuine affection for the March family keeps the work from dissolving into a period-piece telenovela. The cast brings Robin Swicord’s immaculate script to life, embodying each distinct sister’s hopes, dreams and disappointments so organically that we no longer see performance, but growth over the years. These fictional sisters are so memorable that they make “reality” stars composed of actual biological siblings seem artificial in comparison, as if they were conditioned to behave in front of a camera. The March sisters would never do that, because they’re too busy laughing, writing plays, visiting, working and surviving to have time for such trifles. The film abhors trifles and teaches, without preaching, real value and necessity. This is miles away from the entitlement mentality one sees in most romantic comedies about “real women” today and, let’s face it, the Marches didn’t live within easy access to a Nordstrom’s or Barneys.
Little Women is one of the ultimate holiday films and gives dignity to the term “family movie” without making it sappy, manipulative or manufactured. It gathers its laughs organically and earns its tears honestly. It speaks to one’s capabilities and fosters vocations, not pipe dreams and delusions of grandeur. Above all, it’s endearing, timeless and a modern film classic for the ages.