There is a new film of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved book, Little Women, out now, just in time for the holidays! Early buzz is very positive: it’s a triumph, according to most fans, and a very good version of this classic story, according to most critics. And that’s wonderful! After all, as Winona Ryder herself has said: “Every generation deserves its own Little Women.”
Here’s a good early review:
Little Women review – sisters are writin’ it for themselves in Greta Gerwig’s festive treat
There’s nothing little about Greta Gerwig’s rich, warm, bustlingly populated and passionately devoted new tribute to Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel of sisterhood. She revives Little Women as a coming-of-age movie, a marriage comedy, a sibling-rivalry drama – and perhaps most interestingly of all, an autofictional manifesto for writing your own life. This is where fledgling author Jo March must negotiate her terms directly with her mutton-chop whiskered publisher (no agent!). She must enforce her own copyright prerogative. She must decide, having created a heroine so clearly based on herself, if a wedding is the only plausible ending to her story, which gives her a commercial bestseller and a materially comfortable life.
I look forward to Greta Gerwig’s film with much anticipation. And I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.
But nothing will tarnish the pedestal upon which I have placed the 1994 version of Little Women.
Back in 2011, I submitted a blog posting to another website. The posting was my entry in a contest about movies. The assignment? Consider which film was so much my favorite that I would actually want to “be” in it–become a character or even be myself in the world evoked by the movie.
I did not have to consider very long. I knew my choice was the 1994 version of Little Women and I knew exactly why I loved Gillian Armstrong’s film.
I repost that article here for you. My feelings have not changed one bit. Or perhaps they have: I think I cherish the idea of Jo and her professor even more now. I do not see their love and eventual marriage as a sell-out or a compromise for Jo. I see it as a great gift, for both of them. And for us.
And I love that Gabriel Byrne took the role of Friedrich so seriously. He imbued him with a nineteenth century sensibility, combining a love of poetry with a subtle sexiness, and his Friedrich foreshadowed the more recent notion that a woman could be a writer, just as a man could, but both men and women should be writing from their heart and experience.
Not every actor could pull that off. He made Friedrich believable and central to Jo’s story, without overshadowing her. He was not the only one working to make that happen, of course. Writers and directors and costume-makers and more are toiling to get this part of the story right. But he’s the one we notice.
Because he embodies it all.
Blog Posting, October 21, 2011
The basic idea:
What if you had a magic ticket that transported you into any movie you wished? Which film worlds would you choose to enter?
When I was a tomboy climbing trees a long time ago, I always wanted to be in the old black-and-white 1933 version of Little Women I watched on TV. Katharine Hepburn made such a wonderful Jo: full of spirit, awkward and gawky, liable to outbursts of “Christopher Columbus” when startled, so alive and intelligent. Like Laurie, I wanted to be part of the March family. I wanted to be either Jo or Katharine Hepburn (never quite sure where to draw that line) and live in Concord, Massachusetts and experience life and write and fall in love.
Prof. Bhaer in that film was not quite what I had in mind, however. Paul Lukas was a very good actor (Oscar-winner for Watch on the Rhine, also in Lord Jim, etc.) and quite professorial, but not husband material, or even boy-friend material, in my 13-year old opinion, and I usually lost interest in the film about the time that Jo moved to New York. And the whole “Beth” thing was terrifying and looming in the not too distant future. Time to go climb a tree…
Fast forward a few (!) years to 1994 and here is another Little Women, with a great cast of mostly younger actresses, including Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, and Kirsten Dunst, and younger actors (Christian Bale, Eric Stoltz), and Susan Sarandon as Marmie. As I watched the film on the big screen, I was immediately immersed in the colorful New England scenery, the March home, the snow, all of it real and inviting. The script and the pace of the action–all the words I remembered from earlier film versions and the book seemed to be here–and the eccentric and delicate score by Thomas Newman highlighted the special moments I recognized but saw through new eyes, thanks to director Gillian Armstrong. This movie was like a big swimming pool full of everything I wanted and I was swimming away in it, happily. And I was so caught up in my experience of the details of Jo’s life and the March family’s joys and tragedies that I forgot all about the inevitable move to New York.
Was I surprised when Jo looked up from her breakfast in the dining room of her temporary home in New York to discover an intriguing if somewhat subdued gentleman sitting not far away, a handsome, dark-haired presence who caught her eye and nodded amiably? You are damned right I was! Who the heck was that? That was very different from any Prof. Bhaer I had ever seen or imagined or even hoped for! Who was that guy? So unexpected, so gorgeous. And my oh my–what was going to happen to poor Jo?
That “guy” was the Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, known then in the United States primarily for his work in Miller’s Crossing. He would soon be more famous here for a little mystery-thriller that came out of nowhere a year later: The Usual Suspects. And now we know him for all sorts of films and a recent television series, In Treatment. But in this version of Little Women, Mr. Byrne slips into mid-nineteenth century fashion and demeanor as though born to it and, in the process, he takes Prof. Bhaer to a whole new level. Educated and intellectually powerful, yes. A philosopher and musician, check. Soft-spoken and charming, got that. Hot and sexy. Wait! That’s not supposed to…
Ah, but it does.
It was a brilliant idea, to add sex and romance to the quiet relationship that Jo and the Professor develop. A meeting of the minds is one thing, and one thing to be cherished and honored. But a meeting of, well, everything–now that is something usually found only in daydreams. And here are Jo and Friedrich, finding it. And I am there. So there.
And now I’m all grown up and Prof. Bhaer turns out to be all grown up, too–a complete human being with the added appeal of intense blue eyes, luscious black hair, and a smile to die for. Oh, yes. I want to be in this film of Little Women and I want to be Jo, no question about it. So long as Gabriel Byrne is my Professor Bhaer.
Now it’s your turn. Have you seen Greta Gerwig’s new film, with that starry cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, and OMG Meryl Streep!? What do you think? Which version of Little Women is your favorite? heart