Tag Archives: winona ryder

Beauty in the Movies: Little Women

Next Friday is Christmas Eve, so I’ll be taking a break to eat some Christmas cookies, partake in merriment, and watch the yule log with my lovely family. So, today I ask you to take a trip back to Orchard House with me and spend this week’s Beauty in the Movies with the March family in the 1994 screen adaptation of the classic Louisa May Alcott coming of age novel, Little Women.

Little Women is a story in two parts, the first opens on a cold Christmas Eve in Concord Massachusetts. There are no gifts this year and Mrs. March, “Marmee” (Susan Sarandon), and her four daughters must spend the holiday without the company of their father who is away fighting in the Civil War. The eldest daughter, Meg (Trini Alvarado) is clear-headed, beautiful, modest, and kind. Her younger sister Joe (Winona Ryder) lacks her sister’s propriety, she is a head-strong author, adventurous and unconcerned with society or vanity.  Next is Beth (Claire Danes), who is sweet and generous, she is a talented piano player and often helps her mother with charity work. The youngest of the March girls is Amy (Kirsten Dunst), who is babied by her family and a constant annoyance to her sister Joe. The four girls entertain themselves during the long winter months by staging plays in their attic and writing stories, calling themselves ‘The Pickwick Society’. They soon notice the arrival of their wealthy neighbor’s nephew, Theodore Laurence (Christian Bale), who prefers to be called “Laurie”. Joe and Laurie soon grow close and after some skepticism she convinces her sisters to allow Laurie to join the Pickwick Society, and in effect their family as well.

The second half of the story takes place four years later, Amy is now played by Samantha Mathis and the girls have grown up a great deal. Most of you already know how the story goes, many of you probably know it by heart, but if not, I’ll still leave the second half of the film a mystery for you to watch yourselves—just make sure you’ve got a big box of tissues ready. I will say that as someone who read and loved the book as a child, this adaptation is done with a care and a thoughtfulness which is rarely seen in Hollywood. The movie feels like the book, the costumes, the coziness, the love of the March family and the pain of their losses are all wonderfully captured in this film.

There is so much to say about Little Women that it’s hard to choose what to write. It is a classic novel that continues to be popular and widely loved by many. To me, the most interesting aspect of the book was the way it resonated with its audience (myself included). I had a friend in 5th grade who carried around her copy wherever she went. It was always tucked in with her other school books, just in case she needed it. Though simple in many ways, Little Women strikes a chord in each of us, especially young girls. It is truly amazing that Louisa May Alcott captured something about the spirit of young women and the dynamic between sisters that continues to be relatable today.

The March family is genuinely good, but not so much that they seem one-dimensional or sappy. They do good deeds, refuse to buy silk made with slave labor, and help out the terribly poor Hummel family, going so far as to give them their own Christmas breakfast. Marmee is also quite the feminist, and raises her daughters with that same ideology. She shuns corsets and sends Joe to try her had as a writer in New York, telling her “you have so many extraordinary gifts; how can you expect to lead an ordinary life?”. She encourages her daughters to make something of themselves rather than raising them to marry well.

When I was researching this post I found some information about Little Women I had never heard before. Apparently Louisa May Alcott was approached by one of her father’s friends, Thomas Niles,  who was a publisher. Niles thought there was a ripe market for a novel about young women, and he wanted her to write it. Alcott was resistant but finally accepted, yet in her diary she claimed “I don’t enjoy this sort of thing”. She completed the first part of the book, but both she and Niles agreed it was dull, however Niles gave the book to his niece, she took to it immediately calling it “splendid”. They published the first half of the story to instant success and acclaim, it seemed that Alcott had unknowingly delivered exactly what Niles was hoping for.

Though over a hundred years have passed, Little Women continues to inspire re-tellings, there have been stage plays, anime adaptations, and this version is only one of several films made. What makes this story so remarkable is the realism with which it is told. It isn’t so pinned up and proper that it appears stuffy, but it isn’t unbelievably romantic either. The story is simply about women living their lives, taking care of each other and figuring out who they want to be—what is sad is that this still remains a little-seen genre today. I don’t think girls continue to read Little Women because of the romance (although we all love Laurie), I think they continue to read it because of its spirit. They read it because these characters want more than just to fall in love or be rescued by a prince, they want to do something meaningful, they want to be a part of this world in a real way. All we can hope is that this novel remains a classic and continues to inspire all the little women out there for many generations to come.

Happy Holidays everyone!!

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Beauty in the Movies: Heathers

This week I present to you one of the best teen comedies ever, and by far one of the darkest. Heathers is one of those movies that just keeps getting better as the years go by, and you discover something new each time you watch it.

There are four girls who rule Westerberg High, Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty), Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk) and Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder). They spend their days torturing geeks like Martha Dunnstock (Carrie Lynn), who they call Martha Dump-truck, doling out witty dialogue, and playing croquet. When new guy JD (Christian Slater) arrives at school, he shakes up Veronica’s world and forces her to confront how awful the Heathers really are.

When we first meet JD, he’s the epitome of the cool, mysterious new kid, he comes on the scene to save Veronica from a world of Heathers and expose the popular crowd as the self-centered assholes they are. It’s set up like other teen movies; two characters meet and seem to be a perfect match, but things go off in a very different direction from there. It’s Veronica’s story, but instead of spending the film mooning over a crush, she spends it frantically scribbling in her diary while wearing her monocle and cursing the idiocy of her peers.

The American high school is a nasty place, and Heathers was the first movie that exposed it as such. In high school everyone is labeled, every dark secret is fair game, and even death is a way to up your social standing.

Heathers came out in 1989, at the end of an era dominated by John Hughes movies where teenagers are fun, sweet, and adorable—the most bad-ass things they do involve dancing at parades and skipping out on their detention homework. The Heathers teens range from vapid to down right evil, a sharp contrast to the charming geeks and lovable jocks of the Hughes Cannon. In Heathers, house parties are replaced by funerals, and instead of the cute male lead turning out to be surprisingly sensitive, he turns out to be a murderous psychopath. Sadly, in some ways it’s a much more realistic portrayal of what high school is really like.

Heathers established its own vernacular, it gave us phrases you still hear in modern high schools, even if those kids have no idea where they came from—like “what’s your damage?”, “I gotta motor”, or “How very”. Virtually every other line is a memorable quote, who could forget “F*ck me gently with a chainsaw” or “I love my dead gay son!”?

Teen suicide has been making headlines again recently, which means it’s time to start re-running Heathers on cable, because this film actually makes a great case against suicide. It demonstrates how killing yourself just makes your hateful classmates pretend they liked you, and that they will use your death as a means to garner attention for themselves. High school is a war zone, and sometimes it spills over into college, but life does get better. There are still jerks in the world after high school, but you get to choose if you want to be around them or not. Sure, offices can sometimes recall a bit too much of that old high school cruelty, but for the most part people mature and realize life is too short to be so worried what everyone else thinks.

Heathers held up the mirror and forced us to look at the way we treat tragedy, the sensationalized accounts of death and suicide have only grown with the internet age. Teen suicides provoked (at least in part) by bullying are in the news every other week these days. The cavalier attitude and lack of responsibility from peers is always a major focus of disgust—more than twenty years later and Heathers is truer than ever, yet we still act surprised by the actions of empathy-free teens and their victims, showing that we would rather run a “shocking” news story than try to solve the problem. All I can say is, in the words of Big Fun, “Teenage suicide—don’t do it”.

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Beauty in the Movies: Reality Bites

Welcome to the mid 90s, when you didn’t have to have glossy hair, a svelte body, or perfect clothes to be attractive. When grunge ruled, and MTV was actually interesting. I was only nine in 1994 when Reality Bites came out, which in some ways has made it more nostalgic for me, because although I didn’t understand half of it, I thought these characters were so damn cool that they made a permanent impression on me. Years later as I was watching it again, just after graduating from college, it was strange because even after having seen it dozens of times, I could suddenly relate to it.

Reality Bites is the quintessential Gen-X film. The story centers around a group of friends who’ve just recently graduated from college (although one of them dropped out) and are living and working in Houston, Texas. Lelaina (Winona Ryder) was the valedictorian of her university and is an aspiring video artist, Vickie (Janeane Garofalo) is a promiscuous retail manager at the Gap, Sammy (Steve Zahn)—well I’m not sure what he does, but he’s gay and struggling to come out to his parents, and Troy (Ethan Hawke) an unemployed genius who thinks he has all the answers.

A love triangle sits at the heart of this film. Lelaina and Troy, who’ve been long time friends with obvious sexual tension often leading to hostility, form the first two points. The third point is occupied by yuppie TV producer Michael (Ben Stiller) who also directed the film. Lelaina is stuck between a stable, successful guy who obviously likes her, and a moody (but sexy) friend who is hot-and-cold towards her. The film also deals with AIDS, homosexuality, growing up, figuring out who you are, and of course falling in love. Those are all big issues, but they’re dealt with in a natural and human way, the weight of the issues isn’t thrown in your face, and if it is, it’s followed by a laugh.

There aren’t too many movies that touch on art and its meaning. When the documentary Lelaina has been passionately working on for years is given the MTV/Real World editing treatment by Michael’s TV station, she is not only disappointed in him, but devastated that something with so much meaning to her was butchered and reformed into something both embarrassing and unrecognizable. It’s an unfortunate result of having your work recognized, others often forget that artwork is an extension of a person, and not a thing to be corrupted in order to fit a need.

Ultimately a lot of this film revolves around which guy Lelaina will choose, but it’s the details that make it great. There are tons of cameos—David Spade, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Renée Zellweger, and Anne Meara (Stiller’s mom) to name a few. Swoosie Kurtz is perfect as Lelaina’s big-haired, Texan mother, wearing one of the most amazing shoulder-padded, puffy-painted T-shirts I’ve ever seen. This film is ripe with excellent 90s fashion, from Vickie’s lunchbox purses and 60s mini dresses to Lelaina’s grungy shirt-dresses and mary-janes. We also get to see just how gorgeous Winona Ryder is, as she spends most of the movie in baggy t-shirts, unflattering pants and very little makeup, while still looking enviously beautiful.

The depictions of friendship in this film are incredibly frank—the fights, the fun, it all feels true to life and the actors pull it off really well. I especially love the relationship between Lelaina and Vickie, it doesn’t come off like we are being forced to believe these people are friends, it’s just obvious that they are, even when they’re mean to each other. Janeane Garofalo manages to give her character depth without turning into a cliché. The scene in the diner where she discusses her fear of testing positive for HIV is both really funny and really moving. Reality Bites is basically just a romantic comedy, but the supporting characters lend a charm to the story, they take it down a notch while still remaining three-dimensional characters. Without Vickie and Sammy telling Lelaina to get her ass off the couch and stop calling Latoya Jackson’s psychic friends, you wouldn’t have much of a story.

The film has an awesome soundtrack too, U2, The Knack, Juliana Hatfield, Lenny Kravitz, and of course Peter Frampton. The scene featuring the Knack’s My Sharona is one of the most iconic in the film, and who could forget the Lisa Loeb song Stay and the accompanying video which ran on MTV Constantly. Ethan Hawke actually discovered Lisa Loeb, and the use of her song on the Reality Bites soundtrack propelled her song to #1 before she had even been signed.

I can’t think of any other film that captures the fears and struggles of the post-college years as well as this one. It’s probably one of the most difficult times in life. You’re supposed to be an adult, but if you’ve been in school your whole life, it’s a major shock when you’re thrown into the real world and told to sink or swim. Things have only gotten worse with the recession, and the kids who have just graduated from college this year have even fewer opportunities to get started in their chosen field. You come out of college with a whole lot of (often useless) knowledge, a huge pile of debt, meager life skills, and no idea what you want to do with yourself. Even if you do have an idea of what you want, you have to figure out how to do it, and in the meantime everyone keeps asking you what your plans are. Come to think of it, that pressure isn’t just reserved for recent college grads, but everyone.

I’ve heard people talk about how annoying this film is, or how whiny or pretentious it is, and yes, I can see it, but I think that’s part of the charm. It’s sort of implied that the audience has one-up on these characters. They’re 23, but they think they know everything, they’re incredibly smart, but they haven’t lived at all, and all of them are remarkably naive. I’m not really a Ben Stiller fan, but one of my favorite moments in this film comes when his character offers perfect, and funny insight into Troy’s personality by using a reference to Hamlet’s Yorick monologue. While Troy is all abstract thought and irony—laughing at all the people who care so much, he’s the joke, because nobody wants to be around him.

Over the course of the movie all the characters learn a major lesson; they don’t have anything figured out, but it’s alright, because neither does anyone else. Part of growing up is learning that you don’t have control over anything, and the only real power any of us have, is over who we decide to be.

This era is having a revival right now, so if you want to get the look check out the fashions below. Have a great weekend, eat some good food, have some fun, and please tell some people about this blog!

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Beauty in the Movies: Mermaids

Looking back at images of beauty that have made a great impression on me throughout my life, I’ve noticed that there are films which have left a permanent mark on what appeared as beautiful to me, both in ways that I could relate to, and also in admiration of the beauty of others. As Netflix likes to tell me, many of my favorite films feature “strong female leads”, which is true. Unfortunately, they make very few movies that fall in to that realm. In fact there is this thing called the-Bechdel-test which is a way of gauging the prevalence of female representation in movies. It was created by a very smart woman named Allison Bechdel. You can read all about it here, but the basis of the test involves asking these three questions about any movie:

1. Are there two or more women in it who have names?

2. Do the two women ever talk to each other?

3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

When you first read these questions you think, “God that’s silly, of course tons of movies must answer all three of those questions positively” and then you stop and think for a minute and go “wait, oh my god, that sucks, why are there no movies for women that don’t revolve around men or shopping? AHHH” and then you get really upset until you go watch Mermaids and Cher sings and cheers you up, and you remember that there are some good movies for us females.

We should promote and encourage more films that explore all aspects of female existence to be made. Because really, as much as relationships are a part of life, there are so many more topics to cover, and women really seem to just get pigeonholed into these love-sick shopaholics, and we are all so much more than that aren’t we?

So anyway, my point is, every week (on Friday because it’s movie night, duh!) I am going to post about one of these great movies that actually show the diversity of women, and also gives us inspiring images of beauty both in and out. So send me your suggestions too! I’ll make fun collages, it will be great!


Now let me get to Mermaids, this movie had a profound effect on my life when I was 7, I wanted to be Cher, Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci all at once. I loved this movie so much, and still do, that I’d like to share a little anecdote.

Here is a picture of my sister and I in matching outfits (my mother claims this only happened a few times, but I think it happened more) you can see by my sister’s dress that the skirt is supposed to be loose and A-line. Well, I wanted to be just like Cher, so in this big family photo, I decided to knot my skirt in the back so it would be tight like Cher’s right before my dad snapped the photo. I was a pretty bad ass kid. Nobody even noticed, but I was happy, and I still get a kick out of looking at it.

Mermaids centers around the story of Rachel Flax, a single mom who moves to a small Massachusetts town with her two daughters (Ryder and Ricci) in 1963. She cuts sandwiches into fun shapes with cookie cutters, wears fabulous outfits, and actually has a realistic relationship with her kids. Winona Ryder’s character, Charlotte, falls for the hunky groundskeeper (Jake from Sixteen Candles) at the nearby convent, and struggles with questions of religion, sex, and abandonment by her father. The movie also covers Kennedy’s assassination, an adorable Christina Ricci as a swimming champion, Bob Hoskins making an amazing night-light, and so much more.  There is a great soundtrack too, my favorite camp counselor used to have us sing The Shoop Shoop Song (Does he love Me?) on the bus, it was the best summer.

So if you’ve never seen Mermaids (or even if you have) I highly recommend checking it out, and if you find yourself as inspired by Cher’s sexy, fun, 60’s looks in the film as I was, here is a little shopping guide to help you get the look:

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Have a great weekend everyone!

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