I've grown up with the 1994 version of Little Women. It's a movie close to perfection, in my opinion. So when I heard about a remake I was skeptical. But with the good reviews I figured I had to give it a chance. I'll admit going into it with the expectation of not having it live up to the 94 version in my own view, but I never expected I would hate it. I mean; how the heck could anyone possibly make a bad movie based on such a powerful story? So I was proven wrong, but not the way I hoped; that the movie is justified in having a higher rating than the 94 version. I'd love to sit here and say that, yes indeed, it was possible to improve upon perfection. But I can't. Instead, I was proven wrong in that, yes, it is actually possible to make a bad movie based on this story!
From the very beginning something felt off. It starts, and Amy's in France? What happened to the first half of the movie? Jo's in New York. Meg's already married, with children. And Beth's sick... Part of what made the 94 version so fantastic is the way it builds the story. Starting when Amy's at an early age, following them for years as their sisterhood develops, introducing them to new relationships, like Laurie and John, and events, like the German neighbors giving Beth scarlet fever, in a timely fashion. With the story in a linear fashion, you get to know the characters well, and it builds up an emotional relationship between the viewer and the characters. So that, when Beth eventually becomes fatally ill, you grieve with the family. Here, the event passes by without much emotional response, because the movie hasn't built up our relationship with her yet. We get a few flashbacks, but they miss the mark by miles as to build the same kind of emotions as the 94 version managed by letting us "grow up" with the characters, by following them in a linear fashion.
I'll grant you that the movie has some descent moments towards the end, and for a while I almost got into it; not on the same level as the 94 version, but at least there was something there, and I was getting cautiously optimistic about having a better feeling about the movie at the end than I did at the beginning. But then comes the ending and tears it all down again. Partly because the parts about Friedrich are so exceptionally poorly done. Early in the movie, about the only scene we see with him is when he tells Jo that he didn't like her stories, and Jo tells him that she doesn't want to hear more of his opinions. It isn't until Marmee asks Jo about him, as "her friend", that the familiar relationship begins to come into the picture. Then he shows up at their home, with all the misunderstandings and reasons from the 94 version that made it so powerful all but emitted, and only then do we get some flashbacks to how they met. Still extremely underwhelming, and way too late. But what really ruined the ending was how the movie then suddenly, without any sort of pre-warning, starts to mix between being an adaptation of Little Women and a biography of its author, in a way that makes no sense whatsoever. So I started the movie with a question mark above my head, and I ended it with an ever bigger one.
Like I said, there were some good moments towards the end; the underlying story is too good for all of it to be bad. But I have to say they tried hard. From the bizarre, underwhelming non-linearity of the storytelling to its ultimate uncertainty about what story it actually wanted to tell. The casting did it no favors either. Having an Irish, British and Australian actress make out three of the four very American sisters seemed wrong; they didn't have the accent down, and for a while I was questioning if they had moved the whole story to England instead of USA. Granted, Saoirse Ronan is the actress that best fills the equivalent part of the 94 version. She kind of looks like Winona Ryder in the role, and is mostly believable in the part, the main shortcomings coming down to the underlying way the story was told. Emma Watson as the earthly Meg doesn't work at all, she doesn't at all look or act the part. She would have worked better in the part of Amy. Talking of Amy; how Florence Pugh was found worthy of an Oscar nomination is beyond me. She worked fairly well in the older years, and perhaps even on par with Samantha Mathis who was admittedly the least effective casting in the 94 version, but she was just laughably bad as the younger Amy. Particularly cringe worthy were the parts where she throws a tantrum with Jo, and burns her book; her whininess didn't seem at all real, and nowhere near as childishly innocent or heartfelt as when Kirsten Dunst did them in the 94 version. The scene with the limes was also truly horrible. And Eliza Scanlen as Beth makes no impact at all. Claire Danes managed to stir up all sorts of emotions throughout the 94 movie, and you truly felt bad for her Beth. Laura Dern doesn't fit the part of Marmee at all, nor does Timothée Chalamet work well as Laurie; he looks like a teenager throughout the whole movie, and you never get in touch with his true emotions of feelings for the March family, the way Christian Bale did. And the poor actor who did Friedrich had pitifully little to work with, and the relationship between him and Jo doesn't seem in the least real.
The movie is basically a mess from beginning to end, and the few good moments the movie does have can only be ascribed to an original story so powerful that it is impossible to ruin completely, try though they certainly did... I've given an extra point in my rating for that reason, and for some descent attempts by Saoirse Ronan, but you won't find me seeing this piece of turd again. The story deserves better. Fortunately, it has the 94 version, which is certainly the one I'll continue to stick with for the foreseeable future.