Niederpruem’s ‘Little Women’: Have Critics Misjudged a Hidden Gem?

In Featured, Industry Insights, Maria Andress, Movie Reviews, Reviews by Amanda Valdovinos

– By Maria Andress –

This recent modern adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women might be a film on very few radars. Directed by Clare Niederpruem and distributed by Pure Flix Entertainment and Pinnacle Peak, it made just over $1 million in the 12 days following its limited release. Reviews on Little Women from mainstream Hollywood such as those in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety have also not been kind. Critics consider it “Old fashioned”, “faith-based”, and filled with “relentless sweetness and wholesomeness” that “prove overbearing” except “to please the parents who want blandly wholesome family entertainment for their own”.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics seem to agree with their score of 30%; but the Audience Score of 84% seems to tell a different story. Why? It has to do with the fact that mainstream Hollywood may just not be the audience that is interested in seeing anything other than a star-studded version by Greta Gerwig next year that will probably be period accurate, engaging, but also spend much of its focus on the furtherment of women’s careers since the cast includes names such as Emma Watson as gentle Meg, Meryl Streep as traditional Aunt March, etc.  However, for the women who grew up in similar scenarios to the March girls—homeschooled, traditionally conservative but far ahead of the culture with their views on women’s dignity and capability, and very familiar with the book—Niederpruem’s Little Women film is a delightful modern journey into the familiarities of sisterhood.

Cinematically speaking, the order of flashbacks may have been a bit confusing at times and a couple of the main book characters pushed to the background to focus more on Jo’s relationship with each of her sisters. At the same time, the modern setting gave a fresh, engaging outlook on the traditional March girls portrayal. The set design played delightfully into each scene as well. Yes, Variety, cheerful wave of existence coming your direction. A family can have financial woes and still be able to celebrate Christmas with the decorations they reuse each year instead of buying new ones. Also, simply because a girl can’t afford to buy a $300 prom dress, doesn’t mean that Grandma’s gorgeous one turns to rags before her very eyes.

As far as being wholesome entertainment, it’s not too bland and “Christian” to actually include an underage drinking party, some groping and kissing, and a couple exceptionally risqué outfits for a homeschool girl during Meg’s journey to finding out that fitting in with the culture isn’t all it’s touted to be. It may not be to the level of sexy indecorum that raging pop culture prefers, but it’s truthful to Niederpruem’s real audience.

Regardless of perception, the film proposes two points that mainstream Hollywood and Christian women should relate to: sisterly growth and accepting each other’s dreams.

First, we see the struggle between Jo and each of her sisters as their goals differ. In particular, drama hits Meg and Jo as Jo wholeheartedly fights for her dreams and sometimes pushes her sister’s dream aside in her adamance for the March girls to join her in “doing all the things.” When Jo refuses to be a bridesmaid for Meg because Meg is getting married before thirty, without going to college, and with no wish for a career, Meg tearfully reminds Jo that “being a mom and having kids and a home of my own is my dream. Let me have that.” Having a career as an established author is Jo’s choice but that doesn’t invalidate Meg’s opting for motherhood. A punchy reminder to the war for women happening right now where the tide to equality with men is also sweeping the role of wife and mother under the rug. Industry career or homemaker or both are equally acceptable insofar as they each reflect the true dignity and femininity of woman.

Secondly, Jo in particular struggles to accept her changing goals as Amy goes off to London instead and finds success and love there–a painfully twisted juxtaposition for Jo’s dreams. In the same way, the March family sometimes struggles to meet a scornful Jo in her unlovely, lowest moments of unsuccess. The fleshing out of this aspect provokes the idea that along the journey to womanhood and finding our paths, the support of sisters is paramount. Women tend to either grow together or burn together. Today more than ever–from health to image to career pressure to character formation to relationships–women need the support of each other even as Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy must grow into their unique roles.

Whatever critics may say of Niederpruem’s Little Women, the individual personality of each March girl and the inherent need for development through each other is brought to the limelight in this film. There are plenty of pages for the global woman to take from these Little Women!

About the Author

Maria Andress is a film production and acting alumna from JPCatholic (Class of ’17) who hails from the proud green and gold state of Wisconsin. She is currently working in film producing, and pursuing a career in period film production. She is also a travel enthusiast always on the lookout for a fascinating idea or historical tidbit that she can translate to story through the many mediums of art.