LITTLE WOMEN (1994)

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Elizabeth

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.

Christopher

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.

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THE FAMILY STONE (2005)

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Christopher

This movie was so much fun to watch and the best part about the movie to me was how it showed even though you might agree with people on some political views, if someone is a dick, you still despise their character. This movie is exactly like a whole lot of other family Christmas dramas out there, except, THEY ARE ALL DEMOCRATIC HIPPIES!!!! Although they all hate each other and whenever someone that is new to the family shows up they all think it’s a fun idea to shit all over them. Especially if they don’t agree with them on everything! The best characters in this movie are easily Luke Wilson who plays a stoner and just loves everyone and Claire Danes who is doesn’t really say much but is obviously easy-going and nothing like anyone else in the film.

This movie is crazy and worth checking out if you are in the Christmas spirit!

Elizabeth (spoilers!)

The Family Stone is a bad movie about a shitty family being mean to themselves and everyone around them. Let’s break it down:

– First there’s Sybil Stone (Diane Keaton) who is mean to pretty much everyone for no reason but gets away with it because she’s the matriarch. Oh, and she’s also dying of cancer. Oh, and there’s also a scene between her and Craig T. Nelson in which they make out and he grabs her post-mastectomy chest, which is uncomfortable and is one of countless points this movie tries to make about how progressive it and this family is.

– There’s Kelly Stone, played by the aforementioned Coach who really doesn’t do anything but exist.

– There’s Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) a comically stereotypical successful businessman who gets shit from his family for being said stereotypically successful businessman.

– There’s Amy Stone (Rachel McAdams) who is nasty to everyone around her but is clearly supposed to be a sympathetic character here with her NPR tote bag and college-student frumpiness.

– There’s Susannah Stone (Elizabeth Reaser) who’s pregnant. And that’s all there is to her character.

– There’s Ben Stone (Luke Wilson) who is one of the mysterious characters whom everyone around him thinks is a huge, lazy, stoner when in reality he’s a smart, sensitive stoner who is maybe misunderstood but maybe not because his stonerness is his only real character trait.

– Rounding out the Stones is my favorite, Thad Stone (Tyrone Giordano) who is the triple threat of the family by being gay, in an inter-racial relationship, AND deaf. His deafness also leads to one of the funniest elements (I promise), but more on that later.

For Christmas, Everett decides to bring his girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home, whom he wants to propose to and whom only Amy has met (and of course, hates). Before Everett and Meredith arrive, the family gathers around the kitchen to hear Amy bitch about Meredith, which causes everyone in the room (which is almost the whole family) to hate Meredith, too, even though they haven’t met her. How welcoming! Also, it’s important to note that Amy’s biggest complaints were that Meredith talked too much and clears her throat too much. Clearly this is worthy of hatred, at least for the Stones.

Meredith doesn’t stand a chance and the Stones let her know that pretty clearly. Meredith is annoying and I probably wouldn’t enjoy hanging out with her, but if I had a brother that was in love with her I think I would try to maybe not hate her, right? For some unknown reason, Meredith refuses to share a bed with Everett in his parents’ house even though they don’t really have room for anyone to sleep anywhere else and Everett’s parents want them to share the room. Eventually, everyone is so mean to Meredith that she decides to get a room at the local inn instead, while Everett stays behind in the Stone house. That’s right: Everett’s family is so mean to his soon-to-be fiance that she can’t even stay in their house and Everett (and his family) not only thinks that’s acceptable but also does not feel the need to join her. HOW SWEEEEEET!

Before we move along, I need to point out one of the best parts of this movie. And by best I mean one of the best examples of how stupid this movie is. So Thad is deaf, and when he first comes to the Stone house his whole family greets him and speaks to him in sign language. While Amy bitches about Meredith before she arrives, they all sign while they talk. And then . . . no more sign language. Thad is still there the whole time, of course. But the entire family just straight up drops the sign language after Thad’s been around for a couple of scenes. Why make the character deaf if you can’t keep up anything to support that? Oh, because you wanted to show how diverse this family could be, despite hating everyone who is not a Stone? Oh, okay!

So to help deal with the nightmare of staying with the Stones, Meredith invites her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to come stay, which she accepts, because I guess she has no life or family of her own? I also guess we’re supposed to just ignore the fact that Sarah Jessica Parker and Claire Danes in no way look related and also have a very noticeable 14 year age difference between them, because that’s not distracting at all or anything.

By the time Christmas actually comes: Ben is the only one hanging out with Meredith and Meredith incorrectly assumes she slept with Ben the night before and Everett is only hanging out with Claire, which no one thinks is weird even though he also forced Claire to try on the engagement ring meant for Meredith. There’s also a scene in which Meredith, Sybil, and Amy end up on the kitchen floor, laughing and covered in food, after they all vent at each other and Sybil tries to act like they haven’t all hated Meredith this whole time. Meredith also presents the Stones with their gifts: a framed photo of a young Sybil pregnant with Amy. Because Sybil is dying and all, everyone cries and finally accepts Meredith into the family.

Flash forward to the next Christmas: Meredith is with Ben, Claire is with Everett, no one seems to think that’s weird or have any issues with that, and Sybil is dead. THE END.

Making Diane Keaton die of cancer is like a last-ditch effort to make you give a shit about any of these people or this movie in general. Even if you hated everyone, it’s hard not to get choked up when the family is given the picture by Meredith, which made me so mad. I do not want to choke up at anything in this movie because it’s so manipulative and stupid. No one in this move really learns anything and the main problems seem to be solved by partner swapping and killing off the mother. This is just not a fun movie to watch. Except for laughing at the family’s lack of sign language, that was fun!

ROMEO + JULIET (1996)

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Christopher

I’m glad we finally got to watch this movie because I know how much Elizabeth loves it. I have to say it’s not quite for me but I did end up liking it pretty okay! It’s crazy how young some of the actors are in it.

I think all the stuff I generally had a problem with is the director. He’s just kind of awful in some of his decisions. But this movie is a million times better than that shit cloud Moulin Rouge.

The best character to me is Mercutio. When he died it was easily the saddest part of the movie to me. It was also weird that it was Michael from Lost.

But the best part of the film was easily Paul Rudd. He plays Juliet’s soon-to-be-man, Paris. There is a scene in the movie where he turns around, while clapping his hands, smiling at Juliet that is one of the funniest things I have ever seen!

I’ve been wanting to watch this since high school so I’m really glad I finally saw it but I wish I had seen it in high school because I think I would have liked it a bit more.

ALL 13 YEAR OLD GIRLS GO SEE THIS!!

Elizabeth

God, what is there to say about Romeo + Juliet? It’s one of my all-time favorite movies. I’ve seen it so many times . . . honestly I would put it up around 75 times. I was completely obsessed with the play before the movie, and then hardcore obsessed with the movie. I listened to the soundtrack constantly and I give it credit for turning me onto my all-time favorite band, Radiohead. It took my all-time favorite actress at the time, Claire Danes (thanks to My So-Called Life), and paired her with my all-time favorite actor at the time (and probably still, let’s be honest), Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s just really quite incredible.

I’ve read Romeo and Juliet more than any other work (except for kids’ books), hands down, no question. I haven’t read it in years, but I still pretty much know the story backwards and forwards. And as a story everyone knows so well, it amazes me how beautiful and relevant it still is. So Romeo + Juliet is set in modern times, but is still in its own universe, where the characters all speak in Middle English, they live in a surreal beach city, and everyone carries at least one gun. Though modern, it’s still a world where telegrams and mailed messages are used over phone calls, two teenagers meet, fall in love, and get married within 24 hours, and banishment is a viable punishment that can be bestowed without trial. It’s never made clear if this is the United States, though the fact that it was filmed in Mexico is pretty clear, and that’s good. Because it’s not in the United States, it’s in Verona, and although this is Baz Luhrmann’s Verona instead of Verona, Italy, it’s its own world all the same.

Now that I am in my post-teenage years, every time I see a version of Romeo and Juliet, it’s amazing to me just how important it is to the plot that Romeo and Juliet are teenagers. In the play, Juliet is 13, and although it’s never explicitly stated how old Romeo is, I don’t think he can be more than 15. Of course, this was in the late 16th century, so those ages weren’t as young. In Romeo + Juliet, Romeo and Juliet’s ages are never stated, but Leonardo DiCaprio was 22 (and could easily pass for somewhere around 17-19) and Claire Danes was 17 when the movie was made. Why is it so important that they’re teenagers? Because only teenagers are insane enough to believably, meet, fall in love, and get married in 24 hours, and then kill themselves when they can’t be together. If adults did that, they would be insane. But things tend to be life or death with teenagers, and the fact that this was just as true in the 1500s as it is now is extremely interesting to me.

Something else that interested me: Chris and I saw this at the Drafthouse (the guy who sold us our tickets was around 30 years old and couldn’t believe the movie sold out – he was obviously never a teenage girl), so it was the first time I saw it in theaters since it came out, when I was almost 9 years old (I remember it being a big deal, this was the first PG-13 movie I saw in theaters). Watching it last night, it struck me how crazy it was to think that the last time I saw this movie in theaters, I was 8 years old, clutching a bunch of religious necklaces (I was really into the religious-themed set designs), with probably either my mom or sister or both, being so amazed at how beautiful and sad it was but also obsessing over what it must be like to kiss Leonardo DiCaprio, or really to kiss anyone. I had never kissed anyone, never had a boyfriend, never been in love. I thought I knew what sex was, but I really didn’t. I wondered what all of that was like (a lot) but I honestly couldn’t comprehend what it was like. And this is going to sound pathetic, but around the time that Romeo + Juliet came out, I was already battling really severe, early onset acne, at an age where most kids didn’t really even know what a pimple was. I was made fun of a lot, and thought nearly constantly about how ugly I was because my face was so bad, and when I watched Romeo + Juliet, my child self couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself, because I was pretty convinced I would never kiss, have a boyfriend, be in love, etc. So then last night, I found myself as a 25 year old with clear skin (thanks mostly to years of Accutane and laser treatments), sitting in a theater next to my boyfriend whom I am in love with and is in love with me, and whom I knew would later go home with me and kiss me. It almost made me cry to think about, knowing I understood the feelings in Romeo + Juliet so much more than I did when I first saw it. And it’s even better, because I’m not a crazy, suicidally-in-love teenager . . . though I’ve been that, too. It was just very comforting; Romeo + Juliet still made me cry, but just because of how tragic it is, not because I felt sad for myself.

Also, can we just talk about how insanely good at crying Leonardo DiCaprio is, especially as Romeo? I don’t think there a ton of male actors that are great at crying onscreen; it either looks fake (because it is and there aren’t any tears) or so overblown that it feels like the audience is being attacked by acting. But leave it to Leo . . . he cries his fucking heart out as Romeo, because he’s playing a teenager whose love and loss pushes him to the point of suicide. He cries tears, his eyes get red and puffy, his nose runs. He cries. And it’s heart-wrenching to watch.

It’s also important to note the “twist” ending that Baz Luhrmann gave Romeo + Juliet; of course it’s not an insane twist, Romeo and Juliet still die at the end. But in the play, and almost every adaptation, Romeo visits Juliet’s tomb, poisons himself and dies, and then Juliet wakes up, sees Romeo dead, and stabs herself to death. In this version, however, Juliet wakes up just as Romeo downs the poison, so she watches him die in her arms. Seeing her slowly start to wake as Romeo prepares to kill himself is almost unbearable. Especially the way the dialogue is manipulated; all the lines remain the same, but are just said at slightly different times (when Juliet laments the fact that Romeo didn’t leave an poison for her, she’s talking to him directly this time). And when Romeo dies, Juliet is left without her monologue, because she’s said everything to Romeo already. So instead, she cries and then wordlessly shoots herself in the head. It’s pretty gut-wrenching.

I’ve said enough, and I need to stop myself because I could write about this movie and this story forever. If for some reason you haven’t seen Romeo + Juliet, just do yourself a favor and watch it, please.