Film Review: ‘Little Women’ Draws You in With Slow Grace

Sunday, Jul 6, 2014

San Francisco Chronicle, June 23 1995

FILM REVIEW: ‘Little Women’ Draws You in With Slow Grace

LITTLE WOMEN: Drama. Starring Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Trini Alvarado, Kirsten Dunst, Samantha Mathis, Claire Danes, Christian Bales, Gabriel Byrne and Eric Stoltz. Directed by Gillian Armstrong. (PG. 110 minutes.)

Meticulously crafted, and warmly acted by a cast that includes Winona Ryder as Jo and Susan Sarandon as her mother, the devoted Marmee, ‘Little Women’ 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.

Largely autobiographical, ‘Little Women,’ now available on home video, takes place in Concord, Mass., during and after the Civil War. When it opens in 1864, Mr. March is away at war and his wife and daughters are left at home.

In addition to passionate, self-doubting Jo, there’s Meg (Trini Alvarado), the oldest and strongest; Beth (Claire Danes), the sickly one who never dreams of leaving home; and Amy (played by Kirsten Dunst as a 12-year-old, and Samantha Mathis as a 16-year-old), the youngest and most determined to marry rich.

The family may be hard-pressed during the war — poor Meg has to borrow a friend’s dress to attend a coming-out ball, and cadge a pair of fancy shoes from a free box — but the love that the sisters draw from their mother is a rare luxury.

A front of wisdom and kindness, Marmee is the mother every girl dreams of having: a model of composure and insight, an early feminist who encourages her daughters to develop their intellect, humor and moral courage, to ’embrace their liberty.’

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