Little Women (1994 film)
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Original film poster
|Directed by||Gillian Armstrong|
|Produced by||Denise Di Novi|
|Written by||Robin Swicord|
|Based on||Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott
|Music by||Thomas Newman|
|Edited by||Nicholas Beauman|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
Little Women is a 1994 American family drama film directed by Gillian Armstrong. The screenplay by Robin Swicord is based on the 1868 Louisa May Alcott novel of the same name. It is the fourth feature film adaptation of the Alcott classic, following silent versions released in 1917 and 1918, a 1933 George Cukor-directed release and a 1949 adaptation by Mervyn LeRoy. It was released exclusively on December 21, 1994, and was released nationwide four days later on December 25, 1994, by Columbia Pictures.
The film focuses on the March sisters: beautiful Meg (Trini Alvarado), tempestuous Jo (Winona Ryder), tender Beth (Claire Danes), and romantic Amy (Kirsten Dunst), who are growing up in Concord, Massachusetts during and after the American Civil War. With their father away fighting in the war, the girls struggle with major and minor problems under the guidance of their strong-willed mother, affectionately called Marmee (Susan Sarandon). As a means of escaping some of their problems, the sisters revel in performing in romantic plays written by Jo in their attic theater.
Living next door to the family is wealthy Mr. Laurence (John Neville), whose grandson Theodore, nicknamed "Laurie" (Christian Bale), moves in with him and becomes a close friend of the March family, particularly Jo. Mr. Laurence becomes a mentor for Beth, whose exquisite piano-playing reminds him of his deceased daughter, and Meg falls in love with Laurie's tutor John Brooke (Eric Stoltz).
Mr. March is wounded in the war and Marmee is called away to nurse him. While Marmee is away, Beth contracts scarlet fever from a neighbor's infant. Awaiting Marmee's return, Meg and Jo send Amy away to live in safety with their Aunt March. Prior to Beth's illness, Jo had been Aunt March's companion for several years, and while she was unhappy with her position she tolerated it in the hope her aunt one day would take her to Europe. When Beth's condition worsens, Marmee is summoned home and nurses her to recovery just in time for Christmas. Mr. Laurence gives his daughter's piano to Beth, Meg accepts John Brooke's proposal and Mr. March surprises his family by returning home from the war.
Four years pass; Meg and John marry, and Beth's health is deteriorating steadily. Laurie graduates from college, proposes to Jo and asks her to go to London with him, but realizing she thinks of him more as a big brother than a romantic prospect, she refuses his offer. Jo later deals with the added disappointment that Aunt March has decided to take Amy, who is now sixteen (and now played by Samantha Mathis), with her to Europe instead of her. Crushed, Jo departs for New York City to pursue her dream of writing and experiencing life. There she meets Friedrich Bhaer (Gabriel Byrne), a German professor who challenges and stimulates her intellectually, introduces her to opera and philosophy, and encourages her to write better stories than the lurid Victorian melodramas she has penned so far.
In Europe, Amy is reunited with Laurie. She is disappointed to find he has become dissolute and irresponsible and scolds him for pursuing her merely to become part of the March family. In return, he bitterly rebukes her for courting one of his wealthy college friends in order to marry into money. He leaves Amy a letter asking her to wait for him while he works in London for his grandfather and makes himself worthy of her.
Jo is summoned home to see Beth, who finally dies of the lingering effects of scarlet fever that have plagued her for the past four years. Grieving for her sister, Jo retreats to the comfort of the attic and begins to write her life story. Upon its completion, she sends it to Professor Bhaer. Meanwhile, Meg gives birth to twins Demi and Daisy.
A letter from Amy informs the family Aunt March is too ill to travel, so Amy must remain in Europe with her. In London, Laurie receives a letter from Jo in which she informs him of Beth's death and mentions Amy is in Vevey, unable to come home. Laurie immediately travels to be at Amy's side. They finally return to the March home as husband and wife, much to Jo's surprise and eventual delight.
Aunt March dies and she leaves Jo her house, which she decides to convert into a school. Professor Bhaer arrives with the printed galley proofs of her manuscript but when he mistakenly believes Jo has married Laurie he departs to catch a train to the West, where he is to become a teacher. Jo runs after him and explains the misunderstanding. When she begs him not to leave, he proposes marriage and she happily accepts.
- Winona Ryder as Josephine "Jo" March, an ambitious young woman who longs to become a successful author.
- Gabriel Byrne as Friedrich Bhaer, an older professor who falls in love with Jo while he works as a tutor in New York and eventually marries her.
- Trini Alvarado as Margaret "Meg" March, the oldest March sister. She marries Laurie's tutor, John Brooke, and gives birth to twins, a boy (Demi) and girl (Daisy).
- Kirsten Dunst and Samantha Mathis as Amy March, the youngest March daughter. Instead of the brown hair and brown or green eyes of her sisters, she has golden curls and blue eyes. She later marries Laurie and becomes a successful painter. Amy was the only character played by two different actresses; Dunst portrayed her at 12 years old in the first half of the movie, Mathis as a teenager in the second half of the movie.
- Claire Danes as Elizabeth "Beth" March, the third March daughter and the pianist of the family. She is shy, good, sweet, kindly and loyal. She contracted scarlet fever which weakened her heart and resulted in her death some years later.
- Christian Bale as Theodore "Laurie" Laurence, the young pianist grandson of James Laurence, the March' neighbor.
- Eric Stoltz as John Brooke, Laurie's tutor and Meg's eventual husband.
- John Neville as Mr. Laurence, a kindly neighbor.
- Mary Wickes as Aunt March, the only March family member who still had very much money. Upon her death, her estate is left to Jo who transforms it into a school.
- Susan Sarandon as Margaret "Marmee" March, the mother of the March daughters.
- Matthew Walker as Mr. March, the father of the March daughters.
- Florence Paterson as Hannah, the housemaid of the family March.
- Janne Mortil as Sally Moffat, the rich girl friend of Meg.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film 3½ stars, calling it "a surprisingly sharp and intelligent telling of Louisa May Alcott's famous story, and not the soft-edged children's movie it might appear." He added, "[It] grew on me. At first, I was grumpy, thinking it was going to be too sweet and devout. Gradually, I saw that Gillian Armstrong . . . was taking it seriously. And then I began to appreciate the ensemble acting, with the five actresses creating the warmth and familiarity of a real family."
Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle called the film "meticulously crafted and warmly acted" and observed it "is one of the rare Hollywood studio films that invites your attention, slowly and elegantly, rather than propelling your interest with effects and easy manipulation."
Little Women has a strong 90% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews with the consensus: "Thanks to a powerhouse lineup of talented actresses, Gillian Armstrong's take on Louisa May Alcott's Little Women proves that a timeless story can succeed no matter how many times it's told."
The film opened on 1,503 screens in the US and Canada on December 21, 1994. It grossed $5,303,288 and ranked #6 at the box office on its opening weekend and eventually earned $50,083,616. Against its budget of $18 million, the film was a success.
Awards and nominations
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Winona Ryder, Best Costume Design for Colleen Atwood (who was nominated for the BAFTA Award in the same category), and Best Original Score for composer Thomas Newman, who won the BMI Film Music Award.
Winona Ryder was named Best Actress by the Kansas City Film Critics Circle. Kirsten Dunst won the Young Artist Award, and the Boston Society of Film Critics honored her for her performance in both Little Women and Interview with the Vampire.
Robin Swicord was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay but lost to Eric Roth for Forrest Gump.
The film had its initial North America video release on VHS on June 20, 1995, followed by its initial digital release on DVD on April 25, 2000.