Time: 115 mins.
Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Ryder), Best Costume Design and Best Score.
SYNOPSIS: With their father fighting in the civil war, the sisters: Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth are at home with their mother – a very outspoken women for her time. The story is of how the sisters grow up, find love and find their place in the world.
BOTTOM LINE: Ryder leads a stellar female cast in one of the better adaptations of Louisa May Alcott's classic tale about the enduring bonds of sisterhood. The ultimate chick-flick follows the lives of the March girls Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy as they transition into adulthood during the hardships of life following the Civil War. Ryder plays Jo, the tomboy with big dreams. It's her passion for life that keeps the sisters upbeat and happy. She's determined to succeed as a writer, despite the societal restrictions placed on women at the time. Ryder gives her just the right amount of intelligence, grace and unrelenting ambition. Jo's character is the lifeforce of the novel and that's carried over perfectly here.
The girls' innate charms soon have the opposite sex knocking on their door, pulling the sisters in different directions as they follow the yearnings of their hearts. Meg find happiness in marriage and motherhood, but Jo refuses to give in to the safe choice. While she has feelings for the Laurie, the boy-next-door, she's not in love with him as much as he is with her. It's her determination to live life on her own terms that is the heart of the story. It may be an old-fashioned message, but it resonates with honest emotion due to Ryder's spirited performance. How she could resist the charm of Bale is beyond me. Who says you can't be a wife and writer? Of course, in the end she lands Byrne, which is almost as good, even if he is a bit stuffy. Danes gives the other outstanding performance as the ailing Beth, a part that could have been overplayed, but that she handles deftly. The art direction and costumes give the film a lush feeling while still portraying the period accurately enough. A straight-forward tale full of hope, love, sorrow and the surprises life throws our way. It may occasionally be hokey, but it's hard to resist.