As a story, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott characterizes family, thoughtfulness, resilience, grace, passion, loyalty and feminism. The 1994 version with Winona Ryder as Jo March and the 1949 version with June Allyson are two of the best renditions of this classic, beloved story that has inspired young women for ages. There are a couple of others, but those two in particular effectively emphasize both the dignity and the strength that comes with being a woman confident in herself and in her identity as sister, daughter, mother, friend, lover and human. In no way is being a woman a bad thing, even though early on in the story Jo rejects this mentality. I would argue, however, that as her character develops, she comes to understand what being a woman really means, and that it is a beautiful thing.
Today’s conception of femininity as overly delicate and meek contradicts the biblical definition of womanhood, especially in Proverbs 31. But also in Ruth, Esther, Joshua and Exodus. These are just the few that first come to mind. The hallmark women of the Bible are strong and courageous in the face of trials and uncertainty. They are empathetic, they work hard, and they are skilled with their hands and strong in their hearts. They are not harsh, they are gracious and kind.
But they also don’t settle for injustice.
They — along with other male figures in the Bible, such as David — recognize that physical size is not always what makes someone powerful. It’s character and determination to do the right thing.
PBS Masterpiece Classic has released a new miniseries of “Little Women.” I’ve watched the first episode and, I’m disappointed to say, I’m disappointed.
The cinematography is respectable and clever, too, at times. The casting, with Angela Lansbury and Aunt March and Emily Watson as Marmee, is a strong mix. Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman’s 19-year-old daughter, Maya Thurman, makes her debut as tomboy writer Jo March. Unfortunately, Thurman falls short of portraying the part in an appealing fashion not necessarily because her acting skills are subpar, but perhaps because the director’s or screenwriter’s approach to Jo’s character, as well as the others, lacks the depth and nuance that the book and other movie versions communicate.
Throughout the 59 minutes of Episode 1, the character of Jo — true, young — is obnoxious and unresourceful. She has a temper, yes, but the book and other versions account for this. What I don’t recall from past experience with the story is Jo being ditzy, foolish and detached from reality. In fact, in the other renditions, it seems that her thoughtfulness and moral convictions are key components of her attractive character.
In this new version, there numerous scenes where Jo is writing at her desk, with Laurie, the neighbor guy, on the floor or sofa across the room. In an unfortunately politically correct tone challenging “gender norms,” Laurie’s demeanor is wussy and relatively immature. He’s a nice boy, but I don’t understand why his distaste for sports and his love for music, art and the delicate aspects of nature and the human condition have to point toward oppression of man’s ability to be “unmanly.” Maybe it’s because I have a father who loves all of those things but is also strong and committed to providing and protecting his family. I’ve had other male friends who are similar. But nothing about those Greek-like loves has to be linked to improper enjoyment of “traditionally female interests.”Real men can love art, music and think. But that can be a discussion for another time.
Beyond the portrayal of the characters’ personas, the acting feels forced. The characters don’t play out as organic, natural, real people. They become overdramatized archetypes of the roles our contemporary society has decided they fit in. I’m happy to explain why I’ve come to this conclusion, but for the sake of interest in time I’ll not include it here.
I started the show excited because the story is near and dear to my heart. I was looking for the best in it, not skeptical or prepared to be critical at all. What you’re reading here is a contemplation on my legitimate gut reaction.
Jo rolls her eyes every 5 minutes, in some scene every 5 seconds (hint: Aunt March and comments regarding a parrot and the concept of duty are involved).
PBS attempts to make loud, whiney, untactful and ungracious behavior characteristic of “feminism.” It misses the mark.
For a story so intertwined with the Christian elements of Truth, Goodness and Beauty, it’s too bad that in what I expect are three+ hours (there are three episodes in season 1 and others on their way, about an hour each), this Masterpiece rendition has failed to accomplish what the 1994 version does in two.
Maybe I’m wrong and this an entirely unjust reading. It’d like it to be. But the articles I’ve read from USA Today and the LA Times don’t encourage, though the LA Times’ does help the execution seem like a fluke.
I appreciated Variety’s but thought the writer could have said more about the roles tone and delivery play in the performances. Same with the Atlantic’s. The concepts are good, the costumes are great and the sets and scenery are beautiful, but I don’t know if they’re enough.
People watch movies because they’re entertaining. They find pieces of themselves and of those they know and love (and sometimes hate) in the characters portrayed. Movies communicate messages and feelings that transcend time and words through imagery, music and story, and I love them for that. Nothing beats an empowering protagonist.
But a good heroine — or hero, maybe, if I’m to be pc — can be independent, defiant, strong and loving without being unsavory, which is what I feel this post may be becoming, so I’ll stop here.