Little Women

Article excerpt

IN A MOVIE WORLD DOMINATED BY AGGRESSIVE male fantasies such as "Disclosure" and "Dumb and Dumber," Little Women seems daringly unfashionable. Louisa May Alcott in the era of Courtney Love and Sharon Stone? Fortunately, neither director Gillian Armstrong nor screenwriter Robin Swicord seems the least bit daunted presenting the March sisters to a '90s audience, with all their 19th-century New England virtues and vanities intact. This lovely, lived-in "Little Women" confidently settles into the domestic rituals of the March household, paying loving attention to the details, sure that these four sisters' journey of self-discovery will seduce us anew.

Winona Ryder holds center stage as headstrong Jo, the aspiring writer. Trini Alvarado is responsible, conventional Meg, who falls for the stiff young tutor played by Eric Stoltz. Claire Danes has an otherworldly calm as sickly, goodhearted Beth: she makes virtue so natural it takes the sappy curse off the role. And Kirsten Dunst perfectly captures the blond prima donna Amy at 12 -- before the older, spookier Samantha Mathis takes over as Amy grown up.

Ryder is captivating -- so much so that she throws the emotional balance a bit out of whack. She's sexier and more vulnerable than the tomboy Jos we're used to, like Katharine Hepburn's coltish Jo in the 1933 movie. …