A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this version of Little Women is a modern-day take on Louisa May Alcott's classic novel about the four March sisters (which is set in Civil War-era New England). Starring Lea Thompson as Marmee and High School Musical alum Lucas Grabeel as Laurie, the movie modernizes the story with devices like smartphones and computers but retains the family structure and many of the book's quotes and plot points (it stumbles when trying to re-create the original's context). Iffy content is fairly minimal: The word "crap" is used, teens drink in a couple of scenes, one kiss verges on being non-consensual, and a beloved character gets sick and dies. But given its flashbacks and themes about growing up, falling in love, and finding your voice, this one is better for tweens than younger kids.
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What's the story?
LITTLE WOMEN is a modernized take on Louisa May Alcott's classic 19th-century novel about the March sisters. In this version, directed by Clare Niederpruem, Jo (Sarah Davenport), Meg (Melanie Stone), Beth (Allie Jennings), and Amy (Elise Jones) are imaginative homeschooled sisters who grow up with a loving mother, Marmee (Lea Thompson), a military father (Bart Johnson) deployed abroad, and a rich, handsome neighbor named Laurie (Lucas Grabeel). As an adult, Jo tries to get her stories published under the tutelage of her writing professor, Freddy (Ian Bohen), and reflects on her idyllic upbringing with her beloved sisters.
Is it any good?
By transporting the March girls and Marmee to the present day, this earnest modernization loses what's special, even revolutionary, about Alcott's original story and its previous adaptations. When the story takes place during the Civil War, it's obvious how progressive the Marches -- particularly Marmee and Jo -- are, thanks to their transcendentalist, pacifist, abolitionist ideas. In this version, the sisters aren't modern, free thinkers who are challenging the status quo. They don't even seem to live in the real world, considering the shots of Jo in New York City don't include anyone who isn't white, for example. But it's not just the movie's obvious lack of diversity that's off-putting. The idea of Jo not wanting to marry Laurie (or anyone, at first) in order to pursue her love of writing felt shocking in the book's original era but is simply idiosyncratic here.
Marmee's guidance and teaching of the March family's values and philosophies is also seriously downplayed. Thompson is a fine actress, but her Marmee doesn't have nearly as much to say as Susan Sarandon in Gillian Armstrong's lovely 1994 adaptation. Overall, the cast is fine but not particularly memorable. Davenport is so beautiful that Amy's funny line "your one beauty!" falls a bit flat. And Grabeel lacks the charismatic gravitas to play Laurie. Kudos to Niederpruem for attempting a contemporary vision for the March sisters, but the present-day context erases and ignores too much of what was remarkable in Alcott's classic story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this take on Little Women compares to Louisa May Alcott's novel. Which do you like better? Why?
Did you like the way the story was modernized? Do the book's themes and issues translate to a contemporary setting? What works, and what doesn't?
Alcott and her book were considered progressive in outlook, particularly in regards to Jo. Is that clearly conveyed in this version?
- In theaters: September 28, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: December 18, 2018
- Cast: Lea Thompson, Sarah Davenport, Melanie Stone
- Director: Clare Niederpruem
- Studio: Pure Flix Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and teen drinking
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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