As a child, “Little Women” was read aloud to me, and I loved Louisa Mae Alcott’s classic about the four indomitable March sisters living in genteel poverty in Massachusetts while their father serves as a chaplain in the Civil War. And I cherished my Madame Alexander “Little Women” dolls.
Given a contemporary setting, Alcott’s astute observation of female identity in the late 1860s loses its context and authenticity, as the girls Skype-chat with their Army medic dad (Bart Johnson) in Afghanistan.
Aspiring novelist Jo March (Sarah Davenport) tells the story, using inconsistent flashbacks, relating to her sisters – domestic Meg (Melanie Stone), angelic Beth (Allie Jennings) and artistic Amy (Elise Jones/Taylor Murphy) – and their supportive mother, Marmee (Lea Thompson).
As delineated by screenwriters Kristi Shimeck and co-writer/director Clare Niederpruem, Jo is an insufferably selfish, egotistical prig who barely appreciates the encouragement of a Columbia University literary professor (Ian Bohen).
The March neighbors – orphaned Laurie (Lucas Grabeel), his tutor (Stuart Edge) and wealthy Mr. Lawrence (Michael Flynn) – seem so superficial that they barely register, nor does feisty Aunt March (Barta Heiner).
Counting television, there have been more than 12 prior screen adaptations – but none worse than this.
The first “Little Women” play opened in New York in 1912, followed by two silent films (1917 & 1918). There were 48 American radio dramatizations between 1935/1950. And in 1987, there was a 48-episode Japanese anime.
George Cukor’s 1933 version had Katharine Hepburn as rebellious Jo, yet Mervyn Le Roy’s 1949 movie was perhaps the most memorable, featuring June Allyson as Jo, Janet Leigh as Meg, Elizabeth Taylor as Amy, and Margaret O’Brien as Beth. In 1994, Gillian Armstrong cast Winona Ryder and Kirsten Dunst with Susan Sarandon as Marmee.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, this “Little Women” is an artificial, stiltedly foolish 4, leaving audiences anticipating Greta Gerwig’s upcoming version with Saoise Ronan as her leading lady.