(Full disclosure: The director of this film is the wife of a friend of mine, who is one of the producers. You shouldn’t listen to anything I say about this or any other movie.)
Louisa May Alcott’s beloved Little Women gets an update in this affectionate adaptation set in the present day. First-time director Clare Niederpruem and co-writer Kristi Shimek have Jo March (Sarah Davenport) as a headstrong 29-year-old trying to impress Prof. Freddy Bhair (Ian Bohen) with the fantasy novel she’s writing, all the while flashing back to her teenage years with her three sisters (Melanie Stone, Elise Jones, Allie Jennings), their mom (Lea Thompson), and their honorary fifth sister, Laurie (Lucas Grabeel). (Dad, instead of being in the Civil War, is in Afghanistan.) Those scenes are warm and wholesome, capturing the give and take of a functional, loving family, and the Marches’ peculiarities are endearing — and, if you came from a large family, relatable.
But I come to this as one with only passing familiarity with Little Women and no particular connection to it. I’m curious how hardcore Littletons (that’s what we call Little Women fans) will react. It has always seemed to me that part of the story’s charm was its quaint old-timeyness, which is negated by the modern setting. This version is definitely Jo’s story, too, with her sisters getting the short shrift and Jo sometimes coming across as a bit of a pill. Not all of the plot adjustments work, either — it’s not clear why Prof. Bhair is Jo’s only connection to the publishing world, for example — but the production is cheerful and heartfelt, and for some reason it’s always Christmas, so it wins points for sheer merriness.