I wish I knew how many times I’ve seen Little Women. I had seen it enough times to quote the movie by the time I finally got around to reading the novel in fourth grade. Between countless views and reading the novel, Little Women is a movie I could probably accurately re-write from memory.
At different points in my life I identified with each March sister, usually identifying with all of them at once. First there’s Beth, played here by Claire Danes. After I read the novel there was a week at school where I tried to change my name to Beth by only answering to Beth. Around day 3 I forgot to correct people when they called me Elizabeth, so it never really worked. But while I was still deep in my Little Women obsession, another little movie called Romeo + Juliet came out and became something I practically lived my life around. Claire Danes as Juliet only further fueled my love for Beth and solidified my belief that Beth was the most underrated character.
Then there’s obviously Jo, played by Winona Ryder. While Beth and I basically shared a name, Jo and I seemed at times to share the same personality. Was Jo reacting just as I would react? Or have I seen Little Women so many times that Jo’s reactions have become my own? Who the hell knows, and who the hell really cares. The biggest flaw I found in Jo growing up was her refusal of Laurie (Christian Bale)’s marriage proposal. Were Jo and I not looking at the same person? Not hearing the same words? It seemed completely insane to me that she would not want to be with someone who seemed like her perfect match. I remember my mom trying to explain to me that Jo wasn’t in love with Laurie and wanted to see who else was out there, but Laurie being played by Christian Bale really made that hard to believe at the time. Jo ending up with Friedrich (Gabriel Byrne), whom I saw as just an old guy, seemed like it was practically a plot hole. But I admit that watching Little Women as an adult makes the situation much clearer. Christian Bale is still there, but now he kind of looks like a little kid. Gabriel Byrne is still there, but now he looks sexy. It just kind of makes more sense.
The oldest March sister, Meg (Trini Alvarado) struggles with trying to be a good “lady” while simultaneously trying to figure out what that even means. I had some rich friends in elementary school who treated me the way the Moffats treated Meg – like they were doing me a favor by letting me into their world. And like Meg, I ate that shit up. But, luckily also like Meg, I found my rich friends’ lives to also be a little sad and cold. An Abercrombie & Fitch spending spree can’t match to being able to talk to your mom.
The youngest March sister, Amy (played first by Kirsten Dunst and then Samantha Mathis), was ironically the hardest for me to identify with despite being the closest to my age during the height of my obsession. I know in reality that this was clouded with jealousy – I mean, little Kirsten Dunst, who had ALREADY KISSED BRAD PITT, got KISSED (okay on the head) by CHRISTIAN BALE. That blew my mind. Something I felt really deeply about, though, was the scene where Amy burns Jo’s manuscript. Jo and Meg go to the theater with Laurie and John (later Meg’s husband); Amy perceives being left out as a complete slap in the face. I remember 100% agreeing with Amy at the time. They could’ve invited her, they just didn’t, just to be bitches. Amy is filled with a rage that seemed so understandable at the time that I don’t think it even registered as rage to me. Watching as an adult her request is completely absurd – a nagging child begging to go to the theater with adults. But then something switches. While they’re at the theater, Amy takes Jo long-worked-on manuscript and throws in the fire just in time for Jo to come home and watch it burn. That was when my writerly side trumped my child side. Be mad all you want, Amy, but don’t fucking touch Jo’s writing. That’s just crossing a line too bold to come back from. Of course, Jo eventually forgives her, but watching it as a kid I knew I would never be able to forgive someone for doing that to me. As an adult . . . I pretty much feel the same way.
Susan Sarandon as matriarch Marmee really stuck with me, too. First of all, Susan Sarandon looks so beautiful the entire movie despite being in a completely unsexy role. But mostly, it was the fact that she reminded me of my own mom and her reaction to Amy being hit by her teacher at school. While reading her letter to the teacher, Marmee says something along the lines of “if you hit and humiliate a child all you will teach that child is to hit and humiliate.” Hearing that as a child made total sense to me. In fact, after hearing that, I thought parenting was maybe not as difficult as it seemed, if you just understood a basic fact like that.
Of everything that happens, though, there is one moment in Little Women that I will always love and identify with the most. Growing up, I was known for my long hair. I grew it from about 1st-6th grade. Along the way I would get small haircuts, each one ending with me in tears and convinced feet of hair had been chopped off. In Little Women, rather than asking her awful great-aunt for money to help Marmee visit their wounded father in the hospital, Jo cuts her waist-length hair to her chin and sells her hair. That night, hearing Jo quietly sob in their bedroom, Beth wakes up and gently asks Jo, “Is it father?” Jo fingers the ends of her hair and pathetically whines, “My haaaaaaaaair.” Beth bursts into laughter, which must put the ridiculousness of the situation in a clear light for Jo to see, because Jo starts laughing, too. It’s a moment that’s genuinely funny and charming, but is also deadly realistic to a girl who’s had at least a couple of similarly dramatic haircuts.
You’ve seen Little Women, right? If you haven’t, don’t tell anyone and just watch it right now. You’ll feel better about everything.
I always thought this movie was an epic. Something that would warrant two VHS’s. Though it’s not long it still packs a lot of story. I was hesitant about whether or not I would enjoy this film but in the end I found it super enjoyable. I felt like some stuff didn’t quite work. Such as Laurie and Amy getting together but I’m sure that makes more sense in the book.
I also enjoyed the huge cast. Ever since I saw The Usual Suspects I’ve really liked Gabriel Byrne and seeing a young Christian Bale is always great.