The March Sisters At Christmas: Lifetime, Leave Little Women Alone!

There are certain parts of culture which should never be touched by the wrong hands. Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women is one example, and if there was ever a pair of wrong hands for the March sisters’ story to fall into, those hands belong to Lifetime. Unfortunately, Lifetime couldn’t keep its hands off this beloved tale and turned it into The March Sisters at Christmas. This version of the story is set in modern times, which is pretty much this movie’s equivalent of casting Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor. (Is everyone ready for tonight?!). Sacrilege, I say! Sacrilege!

I first fell in love with the March sisters when I saw the 1994 adaptation of Alcott’s book. That movie also introduced me to Winona Ryder as Jo, Susan Sarandon as Marmee, Kirsten Dunst as Amy, and Claire Danes’ chin as Beth. (Seriously, though, few things have made me cry as much as Danes’ performance in that movie. She and her chin are incredible actresses.) I then read the book, saw the two earlier film adaptations (one starring the incomparable Katharine Hepburn as Jo, the other starring, funnily enough, Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), read Geraldine Brooks’ novel March, and wrote a college research paper on Alcott’s father. In short, I’ve spent a lot of time with this fictional family and the author who created it.

So it will probably come as no surprise that Lifetime‘s latest Christmas movie, which turns the March sisters into modern women remodeling their house to save it from being sold, didn’t sit well with me.

Most of my problems with the film’s interpretation of the novel relate to the characters Jo and Amy. Here are just a few of the blasphemous ways the movie characters differ from their literary counterparts:

  • In the novel, Jo March is an aspiring writer who entertains her family with exciting adventure stories. In the movie, @MarchJosephine (Julie Marie Burman) is a ghost-tweeter for a teenage pop star, and she’s also writing the singer’s autobiography. (How that makes it an autobiography is beyond me, but there you have it.)
  • In the novel, Amy March is a naive young flirt. In the movie, Amy (Molly Kunz) is, as Jo calls her more than once, a “slut” who has had “strange battles with the law in Thailand” and acts irresponsibly with little to no remorse.
  • In the novel, Amy burns Jo’s manuscripts out of spite. In the movie, Amy gets a hold of Jo’s phone and tweets naked photos as Jo’s teen pop star, thereby compromising Jo’s career.

I also cringed at the idea of giving lovely characters like the March sisters such scandalous dialogue. Jo suggests she and Meg’s ex-boyfriend “get smashed and dull our shared pain.” While the sisters curl up together under a blanket in the cold, an image that in the book or a better movie version would be heartwarming, Jo calls them “slutsicles.” When Amy tweets from Jo’s phone, Jo calls her a “little bitch.”

Add all this to the fact that the characters are always yelling at each other hatefully and bossing each other around, making them devoid of the charm and sweetness their literary counterparts possessed, and you have the perfect recipe to make me think maybe it’s for the best if the Mayans were right about 2012 being our last year on earth.

I realize Lifetime‘s jar of original ideas is full of cobwebs (hence all the “inspired by a true stories”), but that doesn’t mean they can reach for something as special as Little Women for inspiration, especially if the word “slutsicle” is involved.

See you later. I’m off to read Little Women in the hopes of restoring my faith in humanity. Wish me luck.

(Image: Lifetime)

You can reach this post's author, Jill O’Rourke, on twitter.
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    • Kathy

      Thank you for posting this. I agree totally. Louisa May Alcott is rolling in her grave. And what about Meg and Beth?? Meg has premarital sex with John on her parents’ bed while Beth plays “O Holy Night” on the piano. Abominable. Beth is portrayed as … nothing. “Here’s a white board, Beth, what are you going to do with your life?” What about the Beth of the novel who loved music, people, and animals? What about the Beth who cared so much she tried to help a family with a sick baby? She jumped in and gave 100% of herself, to her own peril, where she caught the disease that led to her demise.

    • LexSkeptic

      This is most disgusting display of disrespect for a classic novel that I have seen. What were the people at Lifetime thinking? I know they wanted to make it modern, but if they want to latch on to Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, they could have made these modern woman with morals and values, not drunken sluts. The March family abstained from alcohol and if I remember correctly from reading an autobiography of the Alcott family, they abstained as well. I saw so many ways that these four women (Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy) could have been portrayed in modern times, but still maintain the characteristics/life paths that were given to them by Louisa May Alcott. Lifetime should have written their own Christmas story with no mention of “Little Women” and called it, “Drunken Slut Sisters at Christmas”. I kept watching thinking surely it would get better, but it never did, I was only able to stomach about 35 minutes of this abysmal train wreck. There are generations of women who read, loved and still respect Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel and Lifetime has insulted the intelligence of each and every one of these women. SHAME ON YOU LIFETIME.

    • Autumn

      I actually like the modern version. Gives it a different spin.

    • nataliecrush

      I’ve been out of town, but the first thing I’m doing when I get home is finding this on my DVR and watching it. And then drinking and weeping and quoting from the novel.

    • Laura

      This movie was terrible. JMB’s screeching had my ears ringing

    • miglet

      So on point. I absolutely loathed this thing I found myself drunk viewing Saturday night. I couldn’t get over the gall of such a piss poor adaptation. There was a telefilm version of “Little Women” done in the ’70s (yes, I am old) that starred Susan Dey as Jo, Meredith Baxter Birney as Meg, Eve Plumb as Beth, and William Shatner as Mr. Bhaer (yeah, I know but it was the 70′s), and while it isn’t my absolute favorite version, it was my first. It was made for television, and it was entirely faithful to the source. I would have had no problem with this modern day adaptation if it had even a modicum of respect for the novel.

    • Niki

      This is just awful, awful, awful and should never be allowed to air again. I think everyone expects less than stellar entertainment when they watch Lifetime, but to ruin a classic like Little Women is not acceptable. I would not want my children to be introduced to Louisa May Alcott’s classic by seeing this. No, no, a thousand times No!

    • Emily Pittman

      Oh thank you for this review!!! This movie was down right blasphemous!!!! Absolutely disgusting!

    • SteveInCT

      Oh Yeah. Stupidity reigns. Shallowness prevails. Hot chicks sell. Gag me with a spoon.

    • Rebroxanna

      I thought it was a very clever re-imagining. Lighten up. And I say that as a woman who read the Novel FIRST (several times) and numerous other LMA books. I mean, Really? You did not read Little Women, the book, until you saw the movie? Have you not ever seen any of the Jane Austen modern takes? From Clueless to Bollywood. Would you call those “sacrilegious” as well? No one loves Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott more than I do. This was meant to be irreverent. Don’t be such a stick in the mud.

    • Emily Anne Besch

      Quite frankly, while I understand where you’re coming from, the 1994 depiction of Little Women is beautifully done and mostly true to form, it’s not entirely an accurate depiction of the book, either. A lot was missing or changed. I understand that this version is much more of a far cry from the book, but honestly not even the 1994 version does justice to the book.

    • Cicely Tutson

      I’m glad I read this before I watched. I have this movie sitting on my DVR now thinking it would be cute, but I will promptly DELETE and stick with my DVD of the 1994 movie.

    • Katlady

      This is Lifetime, and of course this network would bastardize the novel! I absolutely adored the novel since I was a kid and saw all of the movie adaptations with Kate Hepburn, June Allyson and Winona Ryder. Typically, I avoid Lifetime like the plague, but I had to see this modern version out of curiosity. Oh boy, I wish I hadn’t! Louisa May Alcott would indeed be rolling over in her grave if she got her hands on this. I didn’t like the portrayals of any of the characters, especially Teddy(or Laurie Lawrence), who came across as a hulking obsessive bore. He was so charming and dashing in the novel but a witless wonder here. Jo could have calmed down with a little help from Xanax. The plot could have been a great deal better as well. But don’t expect anything from the Lifetime network which regards women as man-hunting, obsessive, crazy and carnal.

    • ARealModernJo

      I am currently watching this travesty (though I will probably turn it off shortly). I recorded it a few weeks ago fully expecting it to be awful, but I did not expect it to be THIS awful. Everything you said is spot on. I visited Orchard House for the first time this past summer and am now horrified that it was featured in a shot in the first few minutes of this film. Kind of added insult to injury and makes me wonder how the Orchard House curators feel about this film.

    • Whoa

      Ugh, finally have been able to watch the film. Nope. Not doing it for me. I could forgive a modern adaption,hell I looked forward to this BUT this version is shrill and lacking any heart that the other LW adaptions had. The sisters don’t even seem to like each other and are like a bunch of mean sorority girls forced to stay together in a broken down house.

    • Jen

      I feel that they did the same thing when they completely ruined Steel Magnolias

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    • Lucinda Wyman

      I was about to confess I enjoyed this version, too. Let’s face it, a modern set of March sisters wouldn’t grow up the way LMA’s girls did. They’ve been exposed to the media since they were born. And apparently the screenwriter was NOT fond of Amy, because she was way over the top–original Amy only destroys Jo’s book of stories she was writing for her father, but modern Amy pretty much kills her job, which was very stupid, but I thought in most cases the modern translations of most of the characters worked. original Meg was always trying to be proper and in control: modern Meg becomes a lawyer where control is #1. Pity about her pushing Beth beyond her limits, but I think that type of A personality just doesn’t understand someone shy like Beth. Old Amy–artist; new Amy–actor, another creative outlet. Beth as a music student, then teacher. Mr. March as a war correspondent. Jo’s particular translation worked as well: from frivolous thriller stories in the original version, she authored modern celebrity tweets–similar pablum for the mind. I loved the joke about Jo writing the young celebrity’s “autobiography,” because don’t we all know that those shallow young celebrity bios are ghostwritten? and most of them don’t do their own tweets? I know people who were surprised and disappointed that George Takei doesn’t really post all those funny things on Facebook; someone does it for him. But really, where would he get the time?
      The male cast was disappointing, though, except for Marcus Bhaer and Mr. Lawrence. Bhaer worked as Jo’s “teacher” in a different way: he knew she could write well from having seen the wrong story and didn’t want her wasting her time on celebrity twaddle. Disappointed that Teddy translated to a jock, and John Brooke looked like he escaped from a Bill and Ted movie. Enjoyed Mr. Lawrence telling the guys to get off their electronic devices and actually have face-to-face interactions!
      All in all, definitely not perfect, but an okay attempt to modernize the story. Not coming into this “cold,” either. I’ve seen all the film versions of the book, have several different editions of the book (including the new annotated version, which is marvelous), and at least a half a dozen bios of LMA.

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