Laura CliffordKit is a smart, imaginative, spirited and inquisitive girl who aspires to have her news articles printed in the local newspaper. It is 1934 and the effects of the Great Depression have descended on her hometown, Cincinnati. Her friends, one by one, have to leave because their parents lost their homes and Kit must face the same when her father (Chris O’Donnell) loses his auto dealership and must leave to find a job in Chicago. Her mom (Julia Ormond) is forced to take on boarders and the cub reporter has to end a crime spree in “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl.
Things are falling apart around old Cincinnati as the economy continues to go down the toilet, businesses close, homes are lost and hobo towns are cropping up. With the homeless numbers constantly growing, the crime rate is growing too. After Kit befriends a pair of young hobos, Will (Max Thieriot) and Countee (Willow Smith), a string of break-ins occur in the neighbor, including her own home where all the Kittredge savings are stolen. Witnesses place a hobo at the scene of the crimes and evidence points toward Will. Kit realizes that it is up to her and her two friends, Stirling (Zach Mills) and Ruthie (Madison Davenport), to stop the crime spree, protect Will and save the Kittredge home from foreclosure by the bank.
Director Patricia Rozema, with scripter Ann Peacock, adapts the hugely popular stories by Valerie Tripp that are based on the even more hugely popular American Girl doll line. This had me wondering what a 50+ year old film critic would think about this decidedly young girls’ movie. Well, I think it is a first-rate adventure film made to order for girls from nine through their teens. It has good humor, meaningful positive messages for its audience, mystery and a solid story that is entertaining from start to finish.
Abigail Breslin is a rock solid anchor as the film’s titular character. The young actress gives full dimension to Kit with her fresh-faced enthusiasm and inquisitive mind, creating a likable, believable character that is a terrific role model to the 10-year old (and beyond) femme crowd. But, young Breslin also gets a lot of help from the veteran adult cast, too. Julia Ormond has the unforgiving role as Kit’s kind, loving and stoic mom who braves every adversity and fleshes it out to be her own.
Chris O’Donnell is OK as Kit’s dad but is off screen for much of the film. Stanley Tucci, as a traveling magician, Jane Krakowski, as a dance instructor, and Joan Cusack, who drives a mobile library, are perfectly cast as boarders in the Kittredge home. Max Davenport is sympathetic as hard-working and honest Will. Wallace Shawn does a good job as the irascible newspaper editor who Kit hounds to print her compassionate article about the local hobo town. Other characters, like Stirling and Ruthie, are also nicely developed by the thesps.
Production design (Peter Cosco) and art direction (Michele Brady) do a great job capturing the time and place of Cincinnati during the rough years of the Depression. Costume design, by Trysha Baker, is spot on. Cinematographer David Boyd gives a crisp, clear look to the film that make look even more 30’s vintage.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” squarely hits its youthful demographic. The good news, though, is that it is fine family entertainment, too. This is the kind of girls’ film that the dads out there won’t mind taking their daughters to and, I say, will enjoy it as well. I give it a B+.
Laura gives "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" a B-.
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