Columbia Pictures

Little Women (1994) *****

This is one of the very few movies that didn’t involve dragons, vampires, aliens, or alien vampires that I ever bothered watching as a kid.

Yet again I find myself in the surreal position of growing beyond the young heroines to which I once related. I used to see myself as Wednesday in The Addams Family; I became Morticia sometime in my twenties when my adorable children sprouted sarcasm. Now in my thirties, with an artistic principled teenager and a perspicacious blonde spitfire, I find myself relating to older moms yet, like Susan Sarandon as Mrs. March. You can tell she used to be like her daughters. She’s still got that youthful, hopeful edge that keeps her fighting for her daughters’ rights to be individuals, free of systemic abuse and expectations that don’t suit them, and the fact she can’t get through a conversation without bringing up feminism is way too relatable.

How beautiful to grow up with the families in my movies. How lovely it is to connect to womanity throughout the decades. This is a book from 1868 filtered through 1990 sensibilities, now viewed from the mid-2020s, and I find myself reflecting on the progress (or lack thereof) from thirty years ago as much as a hundred sixty years ago. Such a straight line can be drawn from, say, the March daughters’ coming of age to my mom’s coming of age, and my own, and those of my children.

A hundred sixty years doesn’t feel so long ago, and that’s comforting. A hundred sixty years from now maybe isn’t that far away either. I wonder if there will be women butting up against the expectations of the Heterosexual Treadmill like Jo March, who’d much rather write gothic stories than get married and have babies*. I can say with certainty that there will be girls developing friendships with boys they think *like* them, only to discover the boys actually *want* them, just like 1868, just like my own young life at the turn of the 21st century.

Marriage is a complicated prospect meaning a great many potentials that had higher stakes for women. They still do. The implicit burden of being the one with less economic power has changed somewhat, but perhaps the difficulty of men to genuinely recognize that burden hasn’t changed at all. While Jo in the story was storming around denying a need for marriage, Louisa May Alcott held similar sentiments. She didn’t initially choose to marry off the girls. The need was passed down from a publisher who wanted happily ever afters for a hungry audience.

Giving Jo an ending with Mr. Bear feels weird, just like the developments with Laurie don’t feel *good* exactly. I don’t think I’m projecting my unease on the story. It feels a lot like Alcott expected even the best man to struggle to respect her passions, like Mr. Bear. And Teddy’s attraction to the March family more than Amy has a whiff of the role women are expected to play for men as wife, mommy, therapist, and his entire social life.

But the bittersweet authenticity of these disappointments, compromises, and sacrifices is maybe what makes Little Women so good, too. If you told your childhood self how your adulthood turned out, don’t you think you’d feel a little bittersweet in the comparison? A lot of people don’t end up living out wild childhood dreams – perhaps most people don’t – but life may be beautiful if you hold love and family close anyway.

On a sentimental level, Christian Bale is such a charming Teddy because he’s also the voice for Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle. If you love Howl and Sophie in the American version, it’s kinda not hard to root for him a *little* bit? Even when he’s being a weird womanizing punk? I expected him to explode into miserable goo when he started tantruming over Jo.

The score for this particular version of Little Women is enough to absolutely break my heart even when I’m not facedown in bed over Beth for the thousandth time in my innocent life. Seeing the absolutely *amazing* cast so young, when we’ve now become accustomed to their grown faces, has a way of making a gal reflect on exactly how much her own face has grown. The years pass in the movie and the characters age but the actresses don’t (with the exception of a casting-swap for Amy mid-movie). This is the sentimental dream of childhood’s years coming to an end. It aches in such a lovely way.(image credit: Columbia Pictures)

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