When you approach a movie based on a book you love, you are hoping for the best. But often you don't get the best, you know? Perhaps you have seen t-shirts with the slogan "Never Judge a Book by its Movie" and other variations on that idea. Anyway, overall, I was pleasantly surprised at this new take on Alcott's novel, though at first glance, I had to adjust to the casting. I always think of Jo as having dark hair and she (as played by Saoirse Ronan) didn't. Meg had the dark hair. Sisters Amy and Beth looked much like the characters I have in my head. Laura Dern did not look like Marmee, their mother. But the acting was so on point, I got used to these new versions of the characters. Meryl Streep aced it as Aunt March.
What I loved: how in the first scene, the camera makes sure we see the ink stains on Jo's fingers. Also: the love, rivalry and scrappiness of the sisters and how they tumbled together, hugging and resting together in heaps or fighting each other tooth and nail. So many scenes matched my memories of the book: how Jo accidentally burned Meg's hair and also how she had her own hair chopped off to sell so she could take Beth to the convalesce at the seashore. I adored the scene where Beth finally plays Mr. Laurence's fine piano, the one his deceased daughter used to play; he steals down the stairs to hide and listen. He starts out as a gruff fellow, but as the movie goes on, he softens before our eyes. A final scene where Jo and Professor Bhaer embrace under his big umbrella in the rain and the train station: perfect!
Other casting that took me a bit of time to accept: Professor Bhaer should have been roly-poly instead of slender, but oh, what eyes he had for Jo! Teddy/Laurie seemed a bit undernourished, but his acting was up to the task, especially during the scene where he tells Jo how he has always loved her (and yet, of course -- she turns him down, as she is so fiercely independent a gal).
The costuming was gorgeous, both the plain spun kind and the fancier outfits, especially those that Amy wore during her sojourn in Europe. But in my mind, the sisters' everyday clothing was too fine. They did not look much impoverished.
Towards the very end of the movie is a scene for lovers of the art of book printing. Shown was the type being set, the cover being covered in leather and embossed, the pages sewn together by hand, etc. Wow!
I've had a realization that reading Little Women at such a young age set me on a lifelong path of reaching out for historical fiction, not that I really thought of it as a separate genre back then. Such titles as Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Strawberry Girl and Houseboat Girl by Lois Lenski were early favorites. As a teenager, I read all the Pearl S. Buck books. Although these days, I do read a lot of contemporary fiction, I also continue to reach for plenty of historical fiction. In a way, historical fiction is a form of Social Studies for me. I like learning and dreaming about how people lived during other times. As it was in childhood, so it is now. Voila!