A Tale of Two Movies

In the past three days I have seen two movies in the theatre. On Christmas Day I saw CATS with my “new” family and yesterday I saw “Little Women” by myself.

Both times the theatre was very crowded. Christmas night has become a big movie night and although I thought an afternoon film two days after Christmas would be empty, I was wrong.

These two movies could not have been more different, not only in subject matter, but in quality and in my reaction.

First let me say that I sincerely hope my son and his new bride and her parents will consider going to the movies on Christmas night our new family tradition. After the mess that is CATS, I am worried! Luckily, several of the group slept and most of us nodded off at some point so we didn’t all have to experience the whole movie. Even those of us who love movie musicals had a hard time staying engaged. I think all of us had seen CATS onstage before and knew what we were getting into before we went, or so we thought!

The only redeeming thing I can say about CATS was that the times I have seen it onstage, I was so enamored by the singing, dancing and the set, I really never got the whole story of the play. With disturbing images, (a cat that unzips her fur to reveal a strange, meat colored outfit underneath and then eats dancing cockroaches) lackluster performances and not a single song performance that didn’t have a musical issue, I kind of tried to at least concentrate on what the hell was going on a bit more than before. It still only marginally makes sense and with the lack of live performances of more artistic and quality performers, I really thought the whole movie left too much to be desired.

In live theatre, I try to be forgiving. After all, it is LIVE and anything can happen. Try as we might, as humans we have terrible days and fabulous days that make our performances better or worse at any given time. Even on our best days we can sing a clunker, lose our breath, trip, or forget. It is one of the things that makes live theatre thrilling for both the audience and the actors.

We are taught as actors to do our best with where we are and what we have on any given day, no matter what. But our best will not be the same from one day to the next. And while hopefully, an audience doesn’t see a huge difference, as performers we always know when our best is better or worse than at another time. We are human.

However, I feel differently about movies. Often singing is prerecorded. At the very least, there is take after take before one is selected for the final cut of the film. If the takes used in CATS were the best, I shudder to think what was left on the cutting room floor!!

I have nothing else to say about that.

Let’s get off of the negative part of this review and on to the more positive! When I first saw previews for Little Women, I was giddy. One of my all time favorite books with some of my favorite actors done by one of my favorite directors! I told Tim and Jon that while they were pre-buying Star Wars tickets, I would be buying Little Women tickets! (I will get to Star Wars next week, I promise!)

I love to see movies with my family and friends, but I sometimes enjoy a movie alone. I can really watch it without worrying about what everyone else is thinking, with no talking to break the total immersion into the film and all the popcorn just for me!

Although the theater was full, I felt completely taken into the world this film created and it was beautiful. Some of the “stage pictures” were breathtaking. Not one performance disappointed (Tim thinks that when you build up a movie so much in your mind, you are bound to be let down. Usually he is right. Not this time.)

The telling of the story (one my well worn copy of the book proves that I love!) seemed new as the story flashes back and forth between different years of the March girls story and the real world of Louisa May Alcott.

Not only were the locations beautiful and beautifully shot, but the costumes were exquisite- not so much in a grand way, but in a real way. They made layers of long undergarments and skirts, jackets, hats and gloves seem comfortable and cozy. The mix of patterns and fabrics was a feast for the eyes along with the beautiful backgrounds.

The feelings of love and sibling rivalry were profound and relatable. And although I do know the story so well and try to not cry in a crowded theatre, there were times I was overwhelmed with emotion as if hearing the news onscreen for the first time.

If I had any complaint it would be the lack of chemistry between Jo and the man she ultimately falls in love with. But put in context of the fact that Miss Alcott was forced to give her heroine a “happy, romantic ending” almost against her will, it seems fitting that it ended with Jo happily teaching and writing, her whole family all around being the focus of her happiness more than the romance.

It was a fresh, well done retelling of a classic that was handled with honesty of the subject, the drama of the events of the times and yet with love and care for the story. There was really nothing I can complain about, I left feeling as if I had spent a few hours with close friends while wrapped in warm blanket. And who doesn’t need a little of that!

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Marietta is a graduate of the University of Montevallo with a BFA in musical theater. She has been performing for over 50 years on the stage and continues to perform, direct and teach. Marietta is married to Tim, has a son named Jon, and a cat named Penny.