Louisa May Alcott's autobiographical account of her life with her three sisters in Concord, Massachusetts in the 1860s. With their father fighting in the American Civil War, sisters Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth are at home with their mother, a very outspoken women for her time. The story tells of how the sisters grow up, find love and find their place in the world.
I hear it's really hard to turn a book into a movie, and even as a viewer, I notice this. You can keep the book and lose a movie, or you make a movie and lose a book. But this balances and keeps the essence of the book and creates a miraculous movie that works on every single level.
It's depth, it's warmth, it's beauty (from aesthetics to costumes to storyline), it all works. I saw this movie before I read the book, and my mom, a big fan of the book loved it, so did my dad who had never read it.
Unlike a lot of period classics that are turned into films, this one has no rigidity or boring spots, and it doesn't feel like the dime a dozen period films out there that re-use the same costumes and replay the same stories. It flows and invites you into the world of these girls, making the 1860s and the March family intensely real.
Fabulous acting by an ensemble cast completes this film. Winona Ryder was inspired casting, and in my opinion makes the best screen Jo ever. She's feisty, strong, tomboyish, but has a warmth and grace about her that I feel Katharine Hepburn and June Allyson (the most famous Jo's) didn't have and suits the character wonderfully. the best thing about these characters is that they endear themselves to you, something many movies lack. Great ensemble as well: Susan Sarandon, Christian Bale, Claire Danes (at 14, believe it or not), Eric Stoltz, Kirsten Dunst, Trini Alvarado, Susan Wickes, Gabriel Byrne all of them are incredible, and fit perfectly.
And if you can get through Beth's death scene without crying, you're pretty tough. It's a scene that doesn't pull sentimental melodrama, but plays honestly and goes to that heartbreaking sadness of losing someone. And the geranium petals and dolls and Thomas Newman's brilliant score finish off the scene, and I think makes it one of the greatest scenes in any film of the last 10 years (and they didn't even include it in the 75th Oscars montage, tsk tsk). The ending is incredibly lovely, and as James Lipton of the Actors Studio says, only needs those "three words" to coney everything that needs to be said.
This is a beautiful film. It's inviting, but not overly sweet, and though nothing too exciting happens, still very fulfilling and entertaining; it can be very bittersweet, but it is a joyful film, and says a lot about people and our emotions and our lives and yet is not confrontational in the least. It pulled out themes and messages which are often looked over out of one of the world's most famous books and made a lasting work of art that touches your heart.
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