Sunday, December 31, 2017

'Little Women' TV Mini-Series Has Been a Delightful Year-End Treat

Though I’m a male, I’ve loved Little Women ever since I was a kid.   I’ve probably read the novel and its sequels – Good WivesLittle Men, and Jo’s Boys – a dozen times each.  I’ve also enjoyed the 1994 film adaptation and the different anime series adaptations (especially Little Women 2, which was based on Little Men).  I’m a huge fan.

Thus, great was my delight that there’s actually a 3-part Little Women mini-series released on the last week of the year.  Binging it this New Year’s Eve has been a treat.

However, like the 1994 film, the story unfolds too fast.  The passage of time is often rough.  It’s simply because there isn’t enough running time to cover everything in Little Women and Good Wives in a satisfyingly paced manner.  The film tried to do it with an hour-and-48-minute runtime, and it wasn’t enough.  And, apparently, a three-hour mini-series isn’t enough either.  The pacing during the opening minutes is actually adequately steady, but as the series progresses, it slowly accelerates, that by the time it got to the Good Wives storyline, the development of several key moments are compromised because of the rushing.  If only this mini-series production could have afforded to have around seven or eight episodes, it would have been smoother and more resonating.  That’s why the various anime series work much better as adaptations because they’ve had plenty of episodes to work with, and though there are also some fillers involved with them, they actually managed to fit in the story.
Furthermore, though most key events from the source material are shown, there are a couple of details – especially relating to the source material’s prominent Christian themes – that have been shed off from them.  These omitted details may seem small in a storytelling standpoint but they are much relevant in realizing those events more deeply and developing the characters more richly.  Character arcs are unfortunately underdone and impaired – most notably Laurie’s and Amy’s (most especially during the “manuscript burning” incident).

In relation to this, there are also small changes to how these events play out.  Once again, the emotional core and lessons from these events are diluted as result.  I was also baffled why this adaptation chose to rearrange a couple of events.  There’s no real reason behind it.  Just for the sake of variation, I guess?  Not quite justifiable.

On the other hand, I appreciate the handful of times it made an effort to “fill in the blanks” to some moments that the source material simply mentioned and didn’t necessarily detailed.  Now, if only it did this on top of giving the meat of the story to have more room to unfold (i.e. as mentioned before, seven or eight episodes instead of just three) and have been bolder about being faithful to its Christian roots.
The performances were generally pleasing.  I did not know who the actresses for the March sisters are prior this show, but I found them pretty and mostly solid on screen. The casting is a bit strange though.  The March sisters, from eldest to youngest, are Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.  But the actresses respectively playing them are Willa Fitzgerald (26 years old), Maya Hawke (19), Annes Elwy (25), and Kathryn Newton (20) – the Beth and Amy actresses are amusingly older than the Jo actress.

Joining them are reliable veteran actors Emily Watson as “Marmee”/Mrs. March, Michael Gambon as Mr. Laurence, Dylan Baker as Mr. March, and – the show’s most inspired casting – Angela Lansbury as Aunt March; unsurprisingly, the best performances came from this lot.   Meanwhile, Jonah Hauer-King wobbled as Laurie.  He was charming enough as cheery, carefree Laurie but laughable as heartbroken, dramatic Laurie.

Lastly, I enjoyed the seemingly conspicuous presence of adorable kittens.

All in all, despite the flaws, the mini-series oozes with the timeless charm inherent with the Little Women material.  It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but I still found it a feel-good watch.

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