It’s time for another installment of Victorian Snark Theatre 3000! And this time we’ll be discussing Little Women (1994). As you guys know, I watch a lot of shitty long nineteenth century-inspired films with my good friends @VictorianMasc and Dr Douglas Small, so we decided to turn them into blog posts.
Previous posts on VST3K include:
–Vanity Fair (2004)
–The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)
–The Raven (2012)
–Fievel Goes West (1991)
Warning for Spoilers and Lots and Lots of Swearing
For the record, I’ve seen this film roughly 600 times growing up and I think it’s a delight and Winona Ryder deserved her Oscar nomination and, frankly, should have won. This is a good-natured snarking done with all the love in the world.
Also, the opening credits say the magic words:
Fans of this blog will know that I have a fairly sizable crush on Gabriel Byrne. This is his third (and easily hunkiest appearance) in this particular series, and I’m only 85% sure that my blog won’t slowly morph into an unofficial Gabriel Byrne website.
It’s Christmas in New England, 1860 (I think Massachusetts? But we can forgive them that because it’s quaint as all get-out):
Yeah, that’s right, I’m already slinging New England shade and we’re not even 3 minutes in.
We open on the voice of our protagonist, Jo March, talking about how that winter fucking sucked, but her family was awesome. Jo is kind of the Lizzie Bennet of the March family, but even more of a baller, because she’s a writer and a tomboy, and her resting bitch face is truly exceptional.
Her elder sister, Meg, is the Jane Bennet of the family but with a much bigger stick up her butt:
Yep, that stick is present and palpable.
Then there’s Beth March, Meg and Jo’s younger sister, who almost definitely has some sort of undiagnosed anxiety disorder. She’s the Mary Bennet of the family, right down to the obnoxious piano playing:
She is played by Claire Danes and her Quiver Chin. If you enjoy seeing Claire Danes do an ugly crying face, then this is not the film for you, because she never fully unleashes it.
The youngest sister is Amy, who I kind of have a soft spot for, because I was a prissy little snot just like her when I was growing up. If I had to describe Amy in modern parlance, I would say that she’s . . . Extra. With a capital E.
Amy also reveals over the course of the film that she needs to buy a fucking dictionary, and that the education in 1860s Massachusetts is a broke-ass system (“Isn’t bread divinity?” “One periwinkle sash has been abscondated from the wash-line.” “I’m so degraditated.”)
And they live with their improbably named “Marmie”, who raises her four daughters with an overt feminist agenda. If you dislike feminist agendas, this is not the film for you. Or book. Or blog, really.
The girls huddle up like chinchillas and read a letter from their father, who is off fighting in the American Civil War and is probably terrorizing Scarlett O’Hara and burning Twelve Oaks to the ground at this very moment.
You can tell this house is full of radicals because they BELIEVE IN THINGS, like charity work and abolition and temperance and gender equality, and also they’re (*gasp*) half-Jewish!
We learn that Jo likes to stay up late writing, wearing a dope-ass velvet night cap like a foxy Ebenezer Scrooge. She says that she’s full of stories and characters she needs to write down. “I gave myself up to it, longing for transformation.”
Douglas: Please tell me she means some sort of Kafka-esque transformation. I already think this film could use a healthy dose of David Cronenberg bug horror.
The next day is Christmas, and they prepare a feast “just like the old days”, before they got all lame and poor. Beth decides to wake up the entire house by blasting something in a major chord, like a dick.
Entire Room, and also Jo: SHUT THE FUCK UP, BETH
The March girls have an Irish housekeeper named Hannah, who has a proper ethno-feud with some Germans named the Hummels, who live nearby on Skid Row. Hannah is surly because Marmie went out to take care of the Hummels and cure them of their scabies or something. I don’t really know what’s wrong with them, apart from poverty.
Hannah informs everyone–with massive attitude–that the Hummels don’t speak a word of English, the father of the family is gone, and there are six children, and the mother is about to “issue another”.
In an alternate universe where Hannah is immortal, she would go on to work for the Daily Mail or Fox News.
The girls quickly decide to bring over their entire Christmas breakfast to the Hummels. This is Amy’s reaction to that idea:
HOLD ON TO THAT FUCKING ORANGE, AMY. You are poor, as well, and probably on the verge of scurvy. Don’t allow that racist hag to guilt-trip you.
Eventually, Amy complies. This leads to a weird close-up shot, and (being academics) we had to pause the film to discuss if this was symbolism or not, and if so, OF WHAT?
As the girls carry the food over, we are introduced to their next door neighbors: Old Mr Moneybags, and his grandson, Laurie. Old Moneybags tut-tuts about how far the Marches have fallen on the socio-economic ladder.
Jo tips her coffee pot to Laurie which, in the nineteenth century, is practically a sexual invitation. And thus Laurie’s decade-long crush is born!
He goes from zero-to-creeper pretty quickly, spending that night staring up at Jo’s window.
The oblivious girls, meanwhile, are playing Pickwick Club:
VictorianMasculinity: It goes without saying that the first rule of Pickwick Club is never to talk about Pickwick Club.
Douglas: I would give anything for this to cut to a scene of Beth just punching the absolute hell out of Meg.
They start speculating about Laurie next door. Jo heard that he was raised in Italy, probably amongst “artists and vagrants”, which makes him 100% sexier to her.
Meg , who is not only a boner killer at every conceivable angle but also the real villain of the film, sniffs that Laurie has had no proper upbringing at all.
The girls all wish they they could be rich again (except for Beth, who is of a dainty constitution and probably just wishes for some morphine). Jo vows to write books and become rich for them all.
Douglas: Yes, Jo. Your way to financial security is to be a professional author.
The next day the girls are getting ready for a Christmas ball! Things quickly go south when Meg asks Jo to curl her hair.
In fairness, Jo has previous bad form with fire: she always scorches her ass standing too close to the fireplace.
Meg, looking in a mirror at her hair: You’ve ruined me!
Douglas: You know, I’ve seen worse ruination in nineteenth-century novels, Meg.
VictorianMasculinity: Yeah, somewhere Thomas Hardy is reading this, going, “Hold my beer.”
Anyway, they patch up Meg’s head and Jo’s ass into a semblance of respectability, and head over to the party. Jo deftly avoids an awkward-looking ginger intent on asking her to dance:
Jo crab-dances her way to safety, and bumps into Laurie. They quickly become friends and ditch the party to gossip and eat tapioca together in another room. Let me tell you, friends, that is MY kind of party. I would be the first one to grab six bottles of wine for me and my new friend and go hang out in the dumb waiter or a closet until everyone else leaves.
While Jo and Laurie are having the time of their lives, poor Meg gets stuck with the red-headed dweeb, who quickly ruins everything by gavotte-ing her so fast that she sprains her ankle:
We had to pause the film here again to discuss the redhead, because on the one hand, we’ve all been Meg March at some point in our lives. On the other hand, we feel kind of bad for the ginger. The boy just wants to dance! He’ll never get any better if he doesn’t practice!
Jo and Meg get sent home in Laurie’s carriage (Oooh, he’s got his own ride? He should be sex on wheels for a freedom-starved 16-year old like you, Jo). Alas, despite his romantic background, his own carriage, and his truly STELLAR ’90s floppy hair, Jo quickly says to her sisters, “He isn’t a boy. He’s Laurie.”
VictorianMasculinity: Ouch. Friend-zoned.
The March girls become Laurie’s playmate. Laurie’s foppish tutor, Mr. Brook, is shocked–SHOCKED, I TELL YOU–to see how rambunctious these girls are.
Marmie quickly puts him in his place: girls are only weak and have fainting spells because we put them in corsets and make them do bullshit like needlework all day. Meanwhile, Meg is quietly begging for a quick death, going, “CONTROL YOUR FEMINISM AROUND STRANGERS, MARMIE”.
Douglas, innocently: I’m starting to think this film might have a feminist agenda, guys.
Then comes the Lime Subplot, which thoroughly confused Douglas. Amy begs some money off of Meg, because she “owes ever so many limes” at school.
Douglas: Wait, what? She owes . . . limes? Like the fruit? Are you sure “lime” isn’t a slang term for drugs?
VictorianMasculinity: Remember how she was clutching onto that orange for dear life? I told you: it’s because everyone in this godforsaken town has scurvy.
Jo works as a companion to her crabby, rich old Aunt March. Aunt March is a TOOL OF THE PATRIARCHY and keeps telling Jo that she’ll take her to Europe one day if she behaves within the remit of conventional femininity!
One day at Aunt March’s house, Amy turns up in tears. The teacher caught her with some contraband limes and beat the crap out of her hand:
Marmie throws a shit-fit and pulls Amy out of school. God, the Marches aren’t okay with drinking or slavery, and now they’re not okay with corporal punishment? This family doesn’t like anything!
One day, the girls are rehearsing some fabulous melodrama in their attic, when Amy decides that she’s is fucking DONE always playing the boy part. She’s on the verge of puberty and she wants to play the girl parts, goddamn it.
Jo’s like, “We could ask Laurie to play the boy parts.” This suggestion is rejected by the quorum because, firstly Laurie might ridicule them, and secondly because when the girls are alone, they are free to “bare their souls and tell the most appalling secrets“.
Douglas: I would love it if Beth piped up in the background, “I once murdered a transient outside of Nashville.”
Jo, however, has made a textbook “sisters before misters” violation. She has hidden Laurie in the attic to spy on her sisters while they play dress-up, and he bursts out of a closet door like a stripper out of the lamest cake ever. Meg clutches her heart like Vincent Price, but in the end Laurie convinces them that he’ll never be an ass hat about their theatricals. So they let him join the March Family Players.
With this new intimacy formed, Laurie and his horrible tutor, Mr. Brook, decide to take Meg and Jo to the opera. Amy is petulant and wants to go with them. Jo refuses and, like all good big sisters, taunts Amy about it.
This is Amy’s supervillain origin moment: she turns and screams, “YOU’LL BE SORRY FOR THIS, JO MARCH.”
VictorianMasculinity: I know we should be focusing on Amy’s vow of revenge, but is their cat’s name ‘Evangeline’? Go big or go home, I guess.
Jo’s night gets even worse when, after the opera, Meg starts making eyes at Mr. Brook: The MOST Repressed Man.
Jo interrupts them from having a first kiss and drags Meg in the house. Cock duly blocked, and we’re all grateful for it.
Her night gets considerably worse when she comes inside and discovers that Amy has burned the manuscript of Jo’s book. It’s a truly upsetting scene, Amy is proper cuntly, and we all wish that Jo got one good punch in before Marmie dragged her away.
This is some GOOD OLE FASHIONED NEW ENGLAND SISTER WRASSLIN’, except harrowing.
Amy spends the next few weeks trying to make it up to Jo. She follows Jo and Laurie ice skating, but neither Jo nor the audience are in a forgiving mood. When Amy plunges through some thin ice, Douglas suggests that Jo and Laurie beat Amy with the stick instead of using it to rescue her.
Alas, she is rescued, and all is forgiven.
VictorianMasculinity: Maaan, Amy sure knows how to use her flair for the dramatic to get the audience on her side. Act like a spoiled brat over limes? Get visibly beaten by a misogynist. Burn what sounds like a Gothic masterpiece? Almost drown.
Douglas: Imagine what she’d do by way of sensational redemption if, say, she murdered a transient, like Beth.
In the spring, Meg goes to a FANCY SOCIETY PARTY and everyone is extremely excited because Meg is the oldest and needs to be the first to get married and might meet A MAN at the fancy party.
Aunt March gives Marmie a stern talking to. She says that the long-absent Mr. March is a fucking idiot with money, and the one hope for the family is “for Margaret to marry well. Although I don’t know who marries governesses.”
VictorianMasculinity: Uhh, Mr. Rochester, dumbass. Read a book once in a while.
Although Aunt March does have a point. If not Meg, then the family will have to wait several years for Amy to grow up and land a rich dude, because Jo and Beth are useless at flirting.
Meanwhile, at the fancy party:
Douglas: High society: we have all the rugs. All the rugs, they are ours.
Meg’s getting ready for the ball and is wearing the wrong thing. The other girls have an honest-to-god discussion about how Meg’s dress is inferior because not enough child laborers died while making it.
Sally Moffet, the Alpha Bitch (because there’s always one in every group), breaks the news surprisingly gently to Meg. She decides to make Meg her “pet” and gussy her up for the big shin-dig. It’s like that scene in Miss Congeniality where Sandra Bullock doesn’t know what lipstick is.
Sally brings her French maid over to assess the damage. The maid promptly grabs Meg’s boobs tells her she needs a corset to push those suckers up. That maid is either as gay or as French as I’ve ever seen. One of the two. Maybe both.
That night, Laurie runs into Meg at the ball and he is horrified by what he sees:
She’s had a glass of champagne, looks like a million bucks, is making charming small talk with men, and seems to be enjoying herself. IT’S A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH, THANK GOD LAURIE’S HERE TO SHAME HER OUT OF A PERFECTLY LOVELY EVENING.
Goddamn it, Laurie, this is why we can’t have nice things. Well, that and principles. I hope Amy gets up to some REAL debauched stuff when she gets older.
A few weeks later, the family is in for a big change: Laurie goes off to college. But before he goes, he drops a bombshell–“Hey, Jo, remember when Meg lost a glove ages back? She didn’t lose it. It was stolen by the resident creep, Mr. Brook, as a memento. He keeps it in his pocket.”.
Douglas: Aaaaaand he almost definitely masturbated into it.
Me: Well, we were all thinking it.
Jo is outraged. Unfortunately, Meg and Marmie and old racist Hannah are not disturbed by this AT ALL. I kind of want the film to go off the rails and have this turn into some sort of stalker thriller. But apparently absconding with a woman’s clothing is treated as romantic. Okay, then.
THEN MORE CHANGES: their father’s been wounded in the war and Marmie must dash off to Washington. But how on earth will they afford a ticket on that new-fangled contraption called a “railroad”? Quick, to the wig-makers! It’s time for Jo to pull a Fantine!
Then, MORE MORE CHANGES: It all starts when Beth brings those dirty Hummels some potatoes:
VictorianMasculinity: Don’t bring them potatoes! Bring them antibiotics!
Douglas: I don’t get it.
VictorianMasculinity: You will.
Beth shows up with the potatoes and discovers that the kids are sick. Even Beth doesn’t want to touch that ragged-ass baby:
This was the point where the room leaned in to worship Claire Danes’s quiver chin, but, alas, she holds it together and does not do the Ugly Cry at this time.
When Jo gets home, she discovers Beth slumped over her piano, because apparently scarlet fever has zero incubation time. BETH IS ON THE VERGE OF DEATH.
They send Amy away so she doesn’t catch it. Amy confides in Laurie that she’s worried she’ll die young, before she’s ever been kissed.
In a moment that is equal parts sweet and creepy, Laurie promises “to kiss her before she dies“.
VictorianMasculinity: Just before. It’s my kink.
Marmie has to drag herself away from her wounded husband to tend to her ailing daughter. She gets there, starts giving Beth a foot massage, and says they need to draw Beth’s fever down from her head.
Douglas: What are you going to do? Jangle your keys at it? I don’t think that’s how fevers work.
But evidently Marmie knows the Conan the Barbarian healing ceremony, because Beth is okay. Terminally weakened, but okay. FOR NOW.
Finally, Mr. March comes home at Christmas, but if you’re expecting him to make any impact on the story whatsoever, or even have more than two lines for the rest of the film, you’re sorely mistaken:
No, the big news at Christmas is that Meg is going to marry Mr. Brook in about a thousand years when he’s able to scrape together enough money for a house. Jo is NOT happy about the engagement…
Douglas: Jo, you sexless cow.
… and also Beth gets a new piano, courtesy of Old Mr. Moneybags next door.
Do the Ugly Cry, you bitch. Do it.
(she does not do it)
NOW WE JUMP AHEAD FOUR YEARS
Amy has grown up hot and has become a talented artist, Beth’s really weak, Meg and Mr. Brook finally get married, and Jo is still pissed off about it. We open on some hippie bullshit where all the wedding guests hold hands and dance around Meg and Mr. Brook singing a song that could be straight out of The Wicker Man.
Jo’s internal monologue is, “Fuck you all. Die weird deaths.”
After the wedding, Laurie corners her in the woods and proposes marriage. They exchange a kiss (probably her first), and it is VERY. SPITTY.
Laurie tells her that he’s loved her ever since she awakened his sexual ardor by tipping that coffee pot to him five years ago, and also his grandfather, Ole Moneybags, is sending him to England to learn the family business and they could go party it up in Europe, like she always wanted.
VictorianMasculinity: Man, Jo would get on hella well with the Brontes. I mean, if they weren’t all dead by this point.
But even the promise of Europe isn’t enough to overcome the “I’m just not that into you” thing. Jo nopes out of there pretty fast.
Douglas: Jo, you sexless cow.
Jo goes home to cry, only to have Amy pull one last douchey move. You know, for old time’s sake:
Amy: Aunt March is going to Europe.
Jo: She promised to take me if I was her companion for all these years. Which I was. Europe, ahoy!
Amy: … yeah, she’s taking me, instead. I am very talented at painting insipid things on teacups, so I’m going to go study painting in Paris. Even if my landscapes do lack emotion.
VictorianMasculinity: I’m sorry, how exactly does a landscape have emotion?
Laurie spends the next week playing Wagner as angrily and loudly as possible, to show Jo that he is SAD. Jo can’t take all the German angst, so she moves to New York to become a writer (and definitely, definitely won’t immediately fall in love with an angsty German dude).
We are treated to BIG CITY MUSIC. You know, jaunty, with just a hint of crime in the bass clef.
VictorianMasculnity: Augh, and she took that fugly hat with her.
She moves into a boarding house and meets a fellow resident named Professor Bhaer. Now, if this film has taught us one thing, it’s that NOTHING GOOD comes from knowing German people. However, we can make an exception this one time because Professor Bhaer is played by Gabriel Byrne, and Jo and I are both all aquiver like Jell-O in a high wind.
Jo’s writing is rejected by publishers, largely because she has a vagina, and we all know that real men are allergic to words written by women. Professor Bhaer comforts Jo in his private quarters, which isn’t a euphemism, but it should be.
VictorianMasculinity: DON’T DRINK COFFEE WITH HIM ALONE IN HIS ROOM! That’s how Whosie-Whatsit from House of Mirth died! I mean, eventually.
Jo and Bhaer bond over books and philosophy as Jo goes through his library.
Jo: Aww, Shakespeare! Goethe! Walt Whitman!
Douglas: Fanny Hill!
They also bond over warding off scurvy:
And it’s all very sensual, BUT WHAT DO ORANGES IN THIS FILM REPRESENT??? THIS IS DRIVING ME BONKERS.
VictorianMasculinity: Wow, that is a sexual orange of sexual sexuality.
IS IT, THOUGH? I CAN’T TELL ANY MORE.
Jo starts publishing her amazing Gothic horror stories under a male name in The Daily Volcano, which is a great name for a newspaper, but an even better name for a volcano. She shows her published stories to Bhaer, and he gets pretty judgmental because apparently Gothic literature is beneath us all.
Bhaer: Lunatics. Vampires. This interests you?
UH, WHY WOULDN’T IT
He quickly apologizes for being a douche-canoe, but the damage is done and Jo’s heart is no longer into Gothic literature. The world is a sadder place for it.
He makes it up for it by taking her to the opera. Bhaer has some pretty slick moves. He’s able to confess his love to Jo under the pretense of translating the opera lyrics to her. This happens:
Douglas: Jo, you sexed-up cow.
Meanwhile, in Paris, everyone has a scrub-stache, including Laurie, who is drowning his sorrows in absinthe and bitches:
BE A FULL BEARD OR BE NOTHING.
He meets up with Amy, who is hard at work painting, and he behaves like a real whiplash-inducing shitweasel to her. He swigs from a hip-flask in the middle of the day, gives Amy jewelry, insults her artwork, asks her to marry him, call her a gold digger, and then says that he will marry ONE of the March sisters, by god, if it kills him.
I mean, that’s one way to propose to someone, I guess.
VictorianMasculinity: Wow, that beekeeper veil is fucking foul.
Douglas: Wait, is Laurie just pretending to be a dissolute playboy as a cover? Is he secretly the Dark Knight of the Third Republic?
Nah, he and Amy are going to go to Dorsia later.
He reminds Amy that he promised to kiss her before she died, which is a pretty creepy thing to say to a woman who is not under immediate threat of scarlet fever.
VictorianMasculinity: Just before. It’s my kink. Remember?
Amy is significantly unimpressed and runs off. Laurie probably contracts syphilis from a French prostitute before going off to London to reform himself for Amy.
Jo is summoned back home because Beth is dying. To be honest, Beth probably heard that Laurie is proposing to every unmarried March girl, so she decided to die rather than face that shitshow of a proposal.
We discover upon Jo’s arrival that Meg is 47 months pregnant with a Brook baby. Gross.
Jo arrives just in time to reach Beth’s deathbed, where Beth makes a moving speech before croaking.
Douglas: Come now, Beth. Death is no excuse for not enunciating. Or for denying us Claire Danes Quiver Chin™.
Hannah sprinkles flower petals over everything in Beth’s room, including some creepy dolls. There is no way one of those dolls doesn’t possess Beth’s soul.
VictorianMasculinity: *sniffling as Hannah* At least she died not a German.
Jo decides to write a book about her life and her sisters. She mails it off to Professor Bhaer: Great Kisser, Snob, and Erstwhile Literary Critic:
Then Meg goes to the Red Tent and gives birth to not one but two horrible Baby Brooks.
Douglas: *as Hannah* And the best part is, neither one of them is German! I checked!
Laurie shows up with marginally better facial hair, and also a surprise wife! Amy has inexplicably married him!
Douglas: You settled for Amy? Hope you have the resources to cope with her crippling lime obsession.
Aunt March dies and leaves Jo her giant mansion, which–to be honest–is pretty good compensation for not taking her to Europe that time. Jo plans on turning it into a school.
Then Jo gets sent a copy of her book, which is apparently going to print. I would love it if this whole film was some elaborate con by Professor Bhaer to get Jo, a promising young writer, to trust him so he could steal her intellectual property and publish it under his own name.
Hannah tells Jo that some FOREIGN gentleman, some dirty German, dropped the book off earlier that day. But Hannah got rid of him by saying that Miss March and Mr. Laurie were married and living next door.
She’s no fool, that Hannah.
Jo runs after Bhaer, who is as sad as sad gets, and tells him it’s not her who’s married to Laurie, but rather her sister Amy.
Also, she has a school and needs teachers, does he want to be a teacher? She also has a bed and needs a boyfriend, does he want to be her boyfriend? He does, and it’s kinky because technically she’s his boss.
They make out in the rain and probably get to, like, second base that night.
Our next post will be around Valentine’s Day, in which we watch a SUPER romantic movie about kidnapping and livestock: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.