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Kirsten Dunst Perfect - Otherwise, disappointing...
on 14 June 2008
First things first - watch it at all costs if only for a young Kirsten Dunst. I can't imagine a better Amy and whenever I go back to the book I always imagine her in the part. Full of life, adorable and hilarious. There's a bit I just love, where Jo says "Stop sulking, Amy, you look like a pigeon", and Amy leans back, rolls her eyes and gives a sulky couple of 'coo's. Sadly, she gets cut two thirds of the way through for a 'grown-up' Amy, who is all right but nothing to write home about.
I wanted to like it, but the film as a whole is pretty flawed. The pace is monotonous and some of the best scenes of the book are cut and replaced with dull dialogue. Because the film is of both Little Women books, a lot of character development is cut and so the first time old Mr. Laurence speaks is when he appears to give Beth a piano, apparently apropos of nothing.
The casting, apart from Kirsten, left me with a lot to be desired. Romance fans, prepare to be disappointed by a completely bloodless Meg (who looks more like 30 than 16) and John Brooke. Claire Danes did as well as she could with a sadly under-written Beth. Winona Ryder makes a pretty good Jo, but Christian Bale was far too old to play Laurie (who is meant to be 15 at the start), and added a certain sleaziness to the character which I didn't care for.
A complete departure from the book was the character of Marmee (Susan Sarandon), here turned into a raging feminist, slipping into speeches on the evils of corsets left, right and centre. Were Marmee's morals considered too old-fashioned for the 90s, or what? Personally, I though she was fine the way she was, especially considering it's set in the 1860s. Luckily, there is still a sweetness to the character and at least they did bring out her principled side. (I also have to wonder how common it was for unmarried, un-engaged couples to launch into full-on snogging in those days, because there's a fair bit of it here!).
However, I did like Jo's Professor Bhaer. The love story felt plausible despite the age gap.