This is the version I got when I was 9 years old, having never before heard of this story. It is, in fact, inscribed to me "on her 9th birthday / Love, Mom & Dad." I still have it and even though the cover is browning inside and out with age and it's a very, very worn paperback at this point, for the above reason I will never in my life get rid of it or upgrade to one of the 8000 higher quality editions. This is The One.
But since I can't find a clear enough image online of that version (photograph my own? lol), let me find you a bigger version cropped from a slightly later edition, so you can better appreciate the intricate detail in this painting, because this is what the girls are like in my head. Jo in back, Beth in blue and Amy on the floor.
I read this book immediately and I fell in love. 5 stars then, 5 stars now. I never read the sequels, because young me went from DELIGHTED to learn such things existed to going, aghast, "Little Men? Jo's Boys?? Gross, who wants that!" and never even bothered to open them. I reread this book when I was 15 and loved it all over again, but I haven't since then, always so overwhelmed with love at the idea that I'm afraid to start, in case I accidentally read it when I'm in a bad mood and spoil the experience.
The 1994 Movie
You should know that I loved this movie when I saw it, also at 9 years old, but then I didn't see it for over 10 years and by the time I was ready to rewatch it, I was AGHAST that I now recognized basically all the actors and the magic was broken.
It's the weirdest thing, and this has never happened to me with any other film adaptation, but when I watched it as a child it WAS the book come to life. Those were really the characters. And now they aren't.
I haven't watched it since because I can't bear to see all these famous people -- a few of whom I've grown to dislike -- just...PRETENDING to be my characters. I hate it and I mourn its loss but that's the way it is. I can never go back. So for that, at least, I am grateful a new adaptation exists -- it might become "mine." (still holding out hope for the PBS miniseries to fill in that slot, though. I saw a short part on TV and I was excited by how faithful it was and how little I recognized people)
WHAT I RECALL FROM THE BOOK VS. THE 2019 MOVIE
I don't remember much of the book's Part II / Good Wives, so basically everything in their adult lives was news to me. Amy and Aunt March go to Europe? Jo goes to live by herself in New York? Meg marries a relative pauper? Any of this could be true to the book or just made up as an alternate idea to explore, and I would be none the wiser. That made it more fun. (NOBODY SPOIL ME ON WHAT'S TRUE)
The one place I thought I could spot a change was in the handling of Beth's illness -- though I am not precisely sure how it changed, I at the very least don't recall a seaside holiday between her & Jo -- but I really liked it regardless.
(Like many other people, I sobbed my eyes out when she died in the book, and probably went crying to my mom about it, who of course knew what was going to happen and had known from the very beginning to prepare for my reaction)
I do know that my heart broke as a kid when Jo didn't marry Laurie, but I don't remember how I originally felt about Bhaer. I know that in the years since, I have become mostly okay with it because, well, how many other age-mismatched pairings have I fallen for like this, and
student/teacher is kind of my thing (I know she's not actually his student, but the base of their connection is the same as WHY I like student/teacher pairings: a professional intellectual admiring the potential of a sharp mind, and vice versa). But it still hurts that my two fave relationship tropes in the world go to war in the triangle from hell. I suppose keeping Laurie in the family by other means is really the closest it's possible to get to happiness.
2019 MOVIE: CASTING
* Emma Watson is very pretty but it is so hard to take her seriously as an actress. She's just Emma Watson, Famous For Being In Harry Poter and Getting Hired For Other Big Name Projects. I feel like she's so consciously *acting* all the time. She made a not-terrible Meg, I guess? No worse than she made a Belle. But it was roughly as hilarious watching her try to be a mother now as it was watching her try to be a mother in the last Harry Potter movie. Like, I just kept hearing the "Damn! I'm SO maternal!" song playing as her theme in the background at all times.
* I realized 6 days prior to seeing the movie that Florench Pugh is recognizable because she's in Midsommar and honestly, that just ruined everything for me. I didn't even see that film, I just know it's gross and I would hate it and she is not tainted forever like the 50 Shades actors, but she is definitely too tainted for Little Women. Also I could not stop thinking about how I associate Amy with being super prim and dainty and ladylike and Florence, while perfectly lovely, is not.
* Laura Dern was kind of strangely modern and kooky for Marmee, but I love her as an actress and I loved that she was just like "HELLO STRANGE NEIGHBOR BOY, COME BE MY FIFTH CHILD." So I was OK with that.
* ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH BOB ODENKIRK. What kind of anachronistic garbage. What crack were you on, because it was obviously not the good stuff. "Did I stumble into an SNL parody??" I wondered more than once.
* Meryl Streep as Aunt March was AMAZING. Ten Oscars.
* Beth consistently looked younger than Amy, so that was weird. She was okay but kind of childlike, and failed to make Beth my favorite like she is in the book.
* JO! Saoirse Ronan is by far my favorite actress in this set, but I didn't think she was right for Jo going in. "Jo's not a redhead!" I said, indignantly stamping my foot, because my childhood-era love for this novel reigns defensively supreme like for no other classic besides Black Beauty. But damned if she did not COMPLETELY embody every essence of Jo there is and make Jo my favorite character this time. Truly, nobody except Meryl Streep so thoroughly inhabited their character. Ten Oscars, part II. (seriously, she's up for an Oscar and if it doesn't go to her I will...well, mostly be okay with the alternatives but if she loses to ScarJo for that bitch of a repulsive movie concept 'marriage story,' I WILL riot).
* John was nice. I feel like he was exactly what he was supposed to be, which is to say kind of plain and milquetoast but perfect for Meg. I don't actually remember him existing in the novel, so that was an interesting game of "how important is this guy?" until suddenly Meg was getting married and I realized I did, in fact, have a very dim memory of a wedding from the book.
* Mr. Laurence was VERY EXCELLENT. IDK why I know the actor, even after looking him up, but I liked him in this role a lot. His grandfatherly quasi-adoption of Beth was so sweet.
* As for Professor Bhaer...OH MY GOD. I hated him on sight and my brain wouldn't even let me recognize who he was for like 3 scenes, I was just like, "who is this random boarding lodger and why are we focusing on that weirdo." Like, he's objectively handsome? But he did not do it for me. He lacked the gravitas I expect from this character and his thick accent scraped my ears and drove me insane (update from the future: his accent is also driving me insane in the book, where I have peeked in at a few chapters as incentive to reread. whyyyyyyy).
* And LAURIE: maybe it's been too long since I read the book, but never could I have ever have imagined I'd want to use the term "fuckboy" to describe Laurie.
It wasn't even Ski Chalet's face so much as it was that in all present-day scenes (post-rejection), he is such an insufferable, melodramatic pouting trash heap that I didn't want him to get to marry any of them at that point. (Also YOU STILL DIDN'T MAKE ME UNDERSTAND WHY HE GOES FOR AMY, so good job.**)
However, I took especial delight in paying attention to all the cuddly platonic friend cuddling he heaped on Jo growing up, in focus or in the background, and I loved it...kind of a lot? He may have permanently taken up residence in my mind's eye as the new Laurie. This is the worst.
(**update from the future, I am peeking at the book and it looks like it's a lot easier to understand both in text and when you're inside Laurie's head. He is still clearly sulking his way through Europe, but in a way it's easier to recover from.)
ACTUAL PLOT AND FILM QUALITY
- The shifting between past and present was very jarring right off the bat, but after that I think it worked.
- The house interiors were breathtaking. It's not like I don't regularly watch period pieces, but this time there was just something about seeing an old house, like the ones I am often in for estate sales, decorated the way it was inside when it was new, the way I always imagine seeing when I enter the foyer of these homes.
- The outside was pretty too.
- Jo made me cry with her I'm so LONELY! speech, rude. (I went into this movie thinking I was 100% on board to finally read the sequels for their Jo/Frederich content, and now I'm like 'ah damn it is gonna be the season for the Jo/Laurie AU novel, isn't it.')
- I loved the attic play rehearsals so much.
- I am so glad Jo’s shorn hair is both fleeting and as hideous as it should look, and not Pixie Cut Chic (Childhood Me wailed at that part reading the book).
- It did not occur to me until just now that the part where Jo publishes her version of Little Women is not in the book (right?), but that was beautifully done.
- A strike against Beth and/or the actress playing her: I did not cry about her death. (in my defense I was busy crying about Jo's pain. And drumming up even sadder AUs where there is no Bhaer and it's pre-Plumfield anyway and maybe her parents die unexpectedly so it's just Jo, weeping alone in the attic of her empty house)
- My mom said she heard this movie was lauded as being super feminist, which is usually a less than stellar thing to hear about a film, but I thought it felt like really authentic "married women literally were not allowed to control their own income and it sucked?" 19th century feminism, and not someone using their 21st century voice to claim this is how people would have REALLY talked if The Patriarchy Of Historical Record hadn't silenced or suppressed it. Nothing rankled me.
- I’m very confused by the people who think it says Jo is queer and/or didn’t end up with the Professor, but if that’s what you see then I guess it’s a win/win situation for all of us.
- LOVED the closing montage.
- Basically at all times that I wasn't annoyed by the casting, I was feeling the same magic I did while reading the book and/or while watching the 1994 movie as a child.
Part of me is honestly kind of sad I didn't reread the book before watching this movie, because even though I usually prefer to go movie first and then get the Expanded Edition that is the book, in this case I wish I'd taken my last chance to properly visualize everything in my head the way I did in childhood, before the movie washed it away forever. This is one of the rare times I would have liked to hope and guess what would be shown vs. kept, and be able to anticipate.
However, seeing it was the impetus I needed to finally take my childhood copy off the shelf (and thank heavens I have it, because the library request is backed up 3 or 4 deep for every copy), and it took all of 5 minutes to get instantly sucked into chapter 1 and feel such rapturous joy that I consciously cut myself off and decided I am going to journal out my feelings after each chapter on this reread. So that’s something!