Gritty and stylized are two words that don't need to describe ‘Little Women’
As long as Hollywood exists, storytellers looking for a fresh twist will be combing the land in search of plot elements they can pluck out and shake vigorously until they compliantly fall into another genre. Homer did it. Shakespeare did it. Even the Bible did it.
“Little Women” is described as a hyper-stylized, gritty adaptation of the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott, in which disparate half-sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy band together in order to survive the dystopic streets of Philadelphia and unravel a conspiracy that stretches far beyond anything they have ever imagined – all while trying not to kill each other in the process.
At first blush, this seems like the natural evolution of parody mash-up craze that began with “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” combined with Hollywood’s predisposition to update classic stories for a modern audience.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and its other ilk — “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” — are parodies. They take a period story and drop a supernatural monster into the mix. Yet the structure remains sound. Basic plot elements are recognizable and characters behave in ways true to their established personalities. Putting zombies into a Regency romance novel is not the same as plucking the characters from their source material and shoving them into “The Walking Dead.”
Then you have the stories that DO take characters from their original time period and rework them for modern day. For example, “Clueless” is a loose adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma” and “10 Things I Hate About You” updates Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” But the struggles of the characters still align with their historical counterparts. Cher is better at setting up her friends than finding herself a match. Kat is still a strong-willed woman chafing against the expectations of the men around her. Wildly diverging character arcs or goals are nowhere to be found.
In order for a hyper-stylized and gritty retelling of “Little Women” to fall into one of those two categories, it would have to PICK one. Either it’s a mash-up parody of a dystopian Philadelphia where the Civil War has been back-burnered as a plague or nano-robots or something run roughshod OR it’s a modern retelling of four girls and their single mother trying to eke out better lives for themselves in the face of crushing poverty.
However, the wording of the synopsis is troubling. “Little Women” is about the internal lives of women and the sacrifices they make in a society that places little value on them outside of being wives and mothers. Meg and Beth toe the line; the former marries young while the latter subsumes herself to care for family. Jo and Amy rail against societal expectations only to butt up against the glass ceilings of their time. On top of that, “Little Women” examines the gender expectations placed on both men and women in 19th century America and shows how those expectations stifled natural talent and creative interests.
The CW can totally tell a story of four half-sisters surviving in the wastes of Philadelphia. That seems right up their alley, as it combines a female-centric storyline with sci-fi elements and it sounds interesting! Women who here to chew bubblegum and kick butt, but they’re all out of bubblegum, make for fun action heroines! But nothing about the sisters unraveling a conspiracy on the dystopian streets of Philadelphia while trying not to kill each other indicates an interest in the kind of introspective examination of gender and society structure central to the source material.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the adaptation will shine a light on modern societal expectations of men and women using a dystopian backdrop to set the stage. But if I’m right, maybe they just shouldn’t call it “Little Women.”