Columbia/Spyglass Entertainment/New World/Fox Searchlight
It took six years off, presumable prescription drug treatment, and a lot of community service for Winona Ryder to make it back. And it's a testament to the enduring appeal of her early work that three appropriately quirky supporting parts—as Commander Spock's artificially-aged mother in Star Trek, as a deranged ballerina in Black Swan, and as Kevin James' cheating wife upgrading to Channing Tatum in The Dilemma, in theaters on Friday—was all it took to resurrect a certain kind of American's crush on Ryder, for GQ to declare as Johnny Depp once did, that it's Winona Forever all over again.
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This Ryder revival's based on nostalgia for her indie roles as a popular girl seduced into murder in Heathers and a suburban girl who falls for an artificial boy in Edward Scissorhands, her position as a kind of Golden Age forerunner to the Manic Pixie Dream Girls. But Winona worshippers might do well to revisit the 1994 adaptation of Little Women, the movie that garnered Ryder a Best Actress Academy Award nomination. Some purists might conclude that the fact that Ryder's nods come for that, and for her supporting role in another period piece, The Age of Innocence, proves that the Academy was too timid to recognize Ryder's edgier work in dark comedies like Heathers, or that Ryder was eclipsed by actresses better able to tap an undercurrent of wildness, like Angelina Jolie, who starred in Girl, Interrupted, with Ryder. But Little Women is a terrific movie in its own right, one of the best adaptations of a literary classic, and Ryder is tremendously good in it.
Little Women is a powerful, totemic novel for those who love it. It's regularly adapted into other forms and reinterpreted by other novelists who have sought to bring the story of four sisters into the present day—as Katharine Weber did in The Little Women—or give an inner life to the main characters' largely absent father—as Geraldine Brooks did to far better effect in March. But it's not the easiest sell to skeptics, or to boys. Little Women is a decidedly female novel, and a decidedly Christian one, following as it does four very different women's routes through a literalized Pilgrim's Progress. The novel meanders, as life tends to. And the main character turns down a marriage proposal that seems perfect for her, only to wed a man Louisa May Alcott conjured up both to satisfy and provoke readers who demanded that she find a match for Jo.