Hollywood has given Louisa May Alcott’s tale a completely unnecessary makeover for 2018 – and we have a feeling the trailer alone will have the author spinning in her grave.
“My sisters and I remember that winter as the coldest of our childhood…”
When I think of Little Women, I always, always, always picture Gillian Armstrong’s beautiful 1994 adaptation: Winona Ryder as Jo, Kirsten Dunst as Amy, Claire Danes as Beth and Trini Alvarado as Meg. Together, they were the March sisters. And, with a little help from Susan Sarandon’s Marmee, they taught us some valuable life lessons about independence, happiness and love – in all its forms.
It was the big screen adaptation to end all big screen adaptations: everything about it – from the music, to the costumes, to the cinematography – was gorgeous. I loved it then, I love it still, and I make a point of watching it every single Christmas with my own sister (she’s the Beth to my Jo, no matter how much she may argue otherwise). So, when I learned that a so-called “modern” version of Louisa May Alcott’s tale was in the works, I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of Laurie’s more bitter lines: “I’ll be hanged if I stand by and watch.”
Dramatic? Sure. But I meant it at the time: at least, I thought I meant it. I thought I did. And then, on a bright summer’s morning, the trailer for 2018’s Little Women: A Modern Retelling landed in my inbox.
For a short while (27 minutes, to be precise), I resisted. However, that unwatched video was every bit as tantalising and taboo as a pickled lime, and I eventually gave in to my hopelessly flawed self. On the other side of the world, at around the same time I clicked play, a disturbance was reported in Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery: Alcott’s body had begun to slowly rotate in her grave.
By the time the trailer ended, Alcott was a whirling blur. And I, frozen to my seat in horror, found myself wishing that I had no heart, because it ached so.
Trust me when I say that it looks terrible. The kind of terrible that makes you throw up a little inside your mouth.
Don’t believe me? Then watch it for yourself. I’ll wait…
I told you so. I told you so! And I feel your pain: I’ve watched this trailer 12 times now, and every single time my gut gets the same cold, sick, clenching feeling it does on a morning after 10 ill-advised double vodka shots.
For all those who “can’t see anything wrong with it”, you are most likely beyond help. However, I am a generous soul, and have found myself with some time on my hands. As such, I am now going to break this trailer down into easily digestible (albeit completely unpalatable) grievances.
Amy is still wearing a clothespin on her nose
Yes, body insecurity is rife in 2018 – perhaps even more so than it was back in the 1800s, thanks to the pressing desire to live out a #pictureperfect experience on Instagram. But modern-day Amy (Elise Jones) must surely realise that using a clothespin to squash her dear little nose isn’t going to work. At all. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have her obsessing over her physical appearance, before stumbling across Jameela Jamil’s I Weigh campaign and finally realising that the idea of “perfection” is all just bulls**t?
Jo’s manuscript drama makes NO SENSE AT ALL
The March sisters are merrily using Skype to stay in touch with their father, yet the trailer still sees Jo (Sarah Davenport) sat up at her desk, painstakingly writing her entire manuscript by hand. Presumably this has been done so the iconic book burning scene can still be played out – but still. Jo’s a smart young woman, with access to a laptop and computers at the high school library. She should’ve backed her life’s work the f**k up. And then Amy could have smashed her sister’s flash drive with a hammer, before sending her a digital virus over email or something. Although, admittedly, that feels far more unforgivable a transgression than shifting some papers into an open flame…
The music is all wrong
Thomas Newman’s score to the 1994 adaptation of Little Women is, essentially, Christmas for the ears – all you need is for those trumpets to kick in, and you’re running through a winter wonderland, snowflakes gently kissing your cheeks as they flutter down from the sky. The Modern Retelling, though, has opted for a slightly different tact: instead of glorious instrumentals and festive choruses, they have plumped for tacky AF elevator music. Talk about bad Noughties rom-com flashbacks.
Is Professor Bhaer supposed to be… Jo’s teacher?
That’s all kinds of wrong. And I am not here for it.
It’s whiter than white
And no, I am not referring to the flurry of snow falling outside the March family’s window. Little Women: A Modern Retelling sees our middle-class cisgender heroines live and operate within an entirely white bubble. Why, if producers felt the story needed updating, didn’t they include any actors of colour?
They still tie Jo down at the end
A true Alcott fan would know that the author never wanted to marry Jo off at the end of the book. However, her male publishers forced her to do so – hence the hasty writing in of Professor Bhaer. So why didn’t the creators of this film use the 2018 setting to undo this great injustice?
As Marmee said: “’You are the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone.”
It’s entirely missed the point of the story
Little Women was never about its ‘almost-as-good-as-boys’ characters, piano recitals, scribblings in the attic, corsets or scores of suitors. Not really, anyway: those were all just the window dressing to something greater. Alcott’s tale tackled serious, contemporary issues: it was set in an America where a school could close for admitting “a little black girl”. Where scarlet fever was rife. Where actual life-endangering poverty can literally be found next-door. Where conscription saw hundreds upon hundreds of men marched off to their deaths. Where education was still unavailable to mere girls. And where marrying well was one of the only ways for a woman to get ahead, because access to most professions was denied to them. Indeed, in the original tale, it is deemed a huge mistake that Jo and Meg – still teenagers – are already working. People turn up their noses at them for being low status, rough and eccentric. People assume their friendship with Laurie is a calculated move, in a bid to get their scheming mitts on his fortune. People mock them for wanting to become successful in their own right. And most people they come across – bar their beloved Marmee – insist that they’re stupid to marry for love alone.
Little Women: A Modern Retelling, however, has failed to acknowledge any of this. The producers have assumed that, by having the girls use computers and dress in Converse trainers, they will be ready for the 2018 world. But they have not updated their “burdens” for their modern-day setting: indeed, their purely white middle-class experience feels more dated for being brought forward in time. Why? Because the film doesn’t deal with the issues facing the “little women” of today’s America. It ignores the fact that Donald Trump is in power, that women’s healthcare is under threat, and that high school students are being forced to take part in active shooter drills. It doesn’t look at the immigration crisis, or the March For Our Lives protests taking place all over the country. It fails to acknowledge the #blacklivesmatter movement, or the threat of global warming, or the influence (both positive and negative) of social media. It completely turns its back on #MeToo and Time’s Up.
Above all else, though, Little Women: A Modern Retelling shuts its eyes to the fact that that teens are more politicised than ever before. They aren’t sat home worrying about marriage and babies: instead, they are striving to make real change in the world – and take a stand for what they believe in. A modern-day Jo March wouldn’t lock herself away and scribble into her notebook. She would be waving banners, starting Twitter movements, blogging like mad, and doing everything she can to “stand up to the lions of injustice” – because she is “not afraid of storms”.
Instead of watching this rubbish, why not try a book-to-screen adaptation which Jo March would approve of? Here are the 10 best of all time.
Image: Main Dog Productions