The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Little Women

Between film and television, there have been at least nine prior screen adaptations of Loiusa May Alcott's novel "Little Women." Does the world really need one more? The new Little Women tries to put a fresh spin on the material by making it contemporary. That's not a terrible idea. The execution, though, is so misguided that all the meaning in the story gets sucked away, buried under a sea of half-baked drama and overwrought performances.

Sarah Davenport plays aspiring writer Jo March. She lives with her sisters Meg (Melanie Stone), Beth (Allie Jennings), and Amy (Elise Jones), as well as mother Marmee (Lea Thompson). Over the course of several years, they endure a series of hardships and challenges. No point bothering with a plot synopsis beyond that. If you're reading this review, odds are you're already familiar with it anyway. The only other thing to know is that High School Musical's Lucas Grabeel portrays Laurie.

The major problem with Little Women is that setting the story in the modern era adds nothing. You would think that director/co-writer Clare Niederpreum would find a way to filter the story's events through the prism of life in today's world, or work to somehow make the themes relevant for modern audiences. Nope. The movie plays like a "greatest hits" of the novel, hitting the expected beats with no new perspective. It's weirdly old-fashioned in that sense. The fact that it takes place in our current time is little more than a novelty. (The girls use Skype to talk to their soldier father, who's stationed overseas!)

The film suffers from other issues, as well. Sarah Davenport has a likable quality onscreen, but her performance is always on 10. Every moment, every line of dialogue is over-the-top, to the point that it becomes grating after a while. Then again, everything in Little Women is over-staged. Dramatic moments are executed with all the subtlety of a bomb blast, while comedic moments are so forced that they don't generate the desired laughter. Worst of all are the scenes where the March girls stage fantasy plays in their attic. They pretend to be in the military, taking the game with such unrelenting seriousness that you start to wonder if they're mentally unstable. Because of all this, nothing ever feels authentic, and the characters never feel like real people.

A jumbled time frame doesn't help matters. Little Women keeps flashing back 13 years, then 12, then 11. Oddly, the characters don't appear to age as these flashbacks go on. The one exception is Amy, who is eventually played by an older actress. It may take you a minute to realize this has happened, because it's the film's only concession to aging.

The intention with Little Women seems to have been to make a wholesome movie that updates a classic tale. The movie is indeed wholesome, with nice work from Lea Thompson. There's just nothing new, and the non-stop manic tone is enough to make you ready to stop watching it long before it's actually over.

( 1/2 out of four)

Little Women is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and teen drinking. The running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.

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