Little Women (2018) The Sarah Davenport
                    A review by Corinne H. Smith


One of the major film interpretations of the semi-autobiographical American novel written by Louisa May Alcott. Known to fans as “the Sarah Davenport,” because she is the actress who portrays Jo(sephine) March, the main character. It carries the tagline “New generation, same sisters,” because it’s a modern retelling of the classic story. Here Miss Alcott’s family tale comes into the 21st century.




     This is the story of the four March sisters – Meg (Melanie Stone), Jo (Sarah Davenport), Beth (Allie Jennings), and Amy (Elise Claire Jones and Taylor Murphy) – and they are Millennials. We see what draws them together and what pushes them apart. We witness their special devotion to their mother, whom they call Marmee (Lea Thompson). Their father, Mr. March (Bart Johnson), is at first away from home and is involved in the war effort, seemingly in the Middle East. The Marches are a middle-class family and are generous to charitable causes. The main plot features Jo as a 29-year-old grad student at Columbia University, where she hopes to launch her writing career. Professor Bhaer (Ian Bohen) advises her from the very beginning, acting as a writing coach and an editor of her work. When Jo lives in New York City, she stays with their Aunt March (Barta Heiner), who dishes out a lot of judgment, but who also lets her great-niece live with her for free, in exchange for dog-sitting duties. And then there’s the boy who moved in next door to the Marches. He’s known as Laurie (Lucas Grabeel), and he lives with his wealthy grandfather, Mr. Laurence (Michael Flynn). They both become good friends of the March family. Jo and Laurie hit it off right away. Will their friendship become something stronger? Watch and find out. As the film rolls along, we see four young girls indeed turn into little women.

     Screen writers Clare Niederpruem and Kristi Shimek must have had some good debates as they distilled scenes from the original book and adapted them into a fresh storyline based in our own time. The duo decided to use a series of flashbacks to explain how some of the later details developed. As a result, we go back and forth between some periods of childhood and some as the girls become young adults. There’s a fair amount of yelling and crying, as can be expected. Kudos to the writers for coming up with a new approach to the sisters’ “castles in the air.” It’s different and fun.

     The movie was filmed in Utah and in Los Angeles. The characters don’t mention Concord or Massachusetts at all. (Or if they do, I missed it). But the story seems to be set in New England. Since it’s a contemporary retelling, the March house doesn’t have to look anything like the real Alcott home, Orchard House. And it doesn’t. Yet, there are some rewarding moments for audiences looking for regional references. The best of these remarks comes when Jo and Laurie are sifting through their college acceptance / rejection letters. Laurie seems to be disgusted with the whole process and says in frustration, “I would settle for UMass Lowell at this point.” Hah! I laughed out loud.

     The cast members portray their characters well. Each sister is clearly defined and has her own nuances and personality. Sarah Davenport plays a very determined and perpetually peeved Jo. I love her red sneakers. She reminds me of Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride. Melanie Stone and Allie Jennings play Meg and Beth perfectly. Young Amy (Elise Claire Jones) is a quintessential last-child brat. Ian Bohen is a soft-spoken and intelligent Professor Bhaer, who prefers to go by the name Freddy. (Really? Freddy Bhaer, as in Teddy Bear? Okay.) Lea Thompson does a decent job at being a caring mother here; but I just can’t get her role in Back to the Future out of my mind whenever I see her. Lucas Grabeel is the unexpected and interesting choice to play Laurie. What a genius move: to cast a real musician in the role of the character who is supposed to be a musician! Other movie producers haven’t done this. Here Lucas performs “Beautiful Day” and “All the Things.” Since I’m older, I was unfamiliar with his voice and music. They fit this story well.

     To diehard Alcott fans: I recommend that you approach this movie with an open mind – or just skip it all together. Part of the fun of it is to recognize and to pick out glimpses and snippets from the book. And remember that this is just one interpretation, not the interpretation. Aspiring writers of all ages should also be interested in the film, since it focuses on Jo’s writing goals and her attempts to get published. Some will see this movie as a mere teen chick flick. Nevertheless, I happen to like it a lot. And I haven’t been a teenager in decades.

     The Little Women of 2018 is the only truly contemporary version that I’m aware of. It has been followed in traditional form by the Saoirse Ronan (2019). It was preceded by the Katharine Hepburn (1933), the June Allyson (1949), the Angela Down (1970), the Susan Dey (1978), the Winona Ryder (1994), and the Maya Hawke (2017). If you’re curious, you could read Miss Alcott’s original novel to see how Clare Niederpruem and Kristi Shimek brought the story to the present day. What would you have done, if you had been given this project?

Thanks for stopping by!

The Little Women Project: Reviews of all of the Movies

Blogs | Books | Non-Fiction| Stories | Poetry
Reviews I Write | Programs | Events | Contact | Home