by Adam Riske
Little Women (1994, dir. Gillian Armstrong) had been on my internal watchlist since its release 25 years ago. Some of the interest came from Siskel & Ebert’s rave review of the film, some of it from a general Winona Ryder fandom of mine, and some of it from how inviting the film’s poster is in a Hallmark type of way. I mean, look at it. It evokes warmth and the holidays in such an appealing fashion (that font!). It’s one of my favorite movie posters. I’m not sure why it took me such a long time to finally see Little Women (this was the first adaptation of the story that I’ve seen and I haven’t read the book), but I’m glad Netflix removed it from their service on November 1st because without that I wouldn’t have felt the urgency to watch it on Halloween night this year.
Jo: “I love our home, but I’m just so fitful and I can’t stand being here! I’m sorry, I’m sorry Marmee. There’s just something really wrong with me. I want to change, but I – I can’t.”
If Little Women ended with this scene, I would love it simply because now the movie feels like a friend. It’s not reassuring me that everything will one day work itself out and be ok, but it’s saying that I’m not alone in these feelings and that I’m understood. The scene concludes with Marmee telling Jo to embrace her liberty and set off into the world, which she does despite initially feeling more unease than exuberance. Jo lives in a boarding house after her move from Concord, Massachusetts to New York City. There she is around people more like her peers, one of whom says to her after a spirited debate “You should have been a lawyer, Miss March.” Jo replies, “I should have been a great many things, Mr. Mayer.” I hear ya, sister.
Jo sticks it out in New York, writing impersonal stories, making money, etc. During this time, she meets an older professor named Friedrich (Gabriel Byrne) who inspires her and with whom she later falls in love. Friedrich pushes Jo into writing from her heart and her experience and to embrace the life she came from as much as the one she’s pursuing. The movie wraps up with Jo returning home to Concord. Her sister, Beth, (Claire Danes) is dying. Another sister, Amy (Samantha Mathis), is marrying Laurie and Jo is inheriting her rich aunt’s (Mary Wickes) estate. Friedrich follows her from New York, asks if she’ll have him and Jo (knowing he’s her soulmate) happily accepts while Friedrich agrees to teach at Jo’s new home which she intends to convert into a school. As Jo so eloquently puts it in the film’s final moment, her hands are no longer empty. She’s reconciled her push-pull relationship with where she grew up, she went into the world, began making a mark, found a new passion in writing & teaching and met a man who’s a true partner to share her life with.