As someone who grew up during the Great Depression, I feel considerable empathy for the lead character in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. Abigail Breslin’s portrayal of a spunky 9-year-old facing many problems during the early 1930s forced me to remember some of my own childhood experiences. The movie’s attention to detail in terms of costumes, music, sets and attitudes also helped take me back to a period of time I’d almost forgotten about. Although there’s much to make one sad while watching the economic hardships depicted in this family film, I applaud the inspiring message Kit Kittredge delivers as well as its emphasis on the importance of tolerance, hope, loyalty and determination -- especially during troubled times.
But enough preaching. There’s a lot of fun in this movie too! Kit (Breslin) may be only nine years old, but she’s already pestering a grumpy newspaper editor (Wallace Shawn) with pleas -- which sound more like demands -- to publish her articles. The scenes between Breslin’s Kit and Shawn’s “Mr. Gibson” snap, crackle and pop on screen. Like the surprised newsroom crew in the film, I couldn’t help smiling at these two very different characters as they argue over what good journalism is all about.
Kit’s tree-house club also evokes more than a few chuckles, particularly the amusing initiation ritual. It’s like something out of an Our Gang comedy. Adding a bit of suspense to the proceedings, there’s the mystery Kit tries to solve when two young hobos (Max Thieriot and Willow Smith) she’s befriended are accused of stealing.
Yes, Kit gets down in the dumps sometimes. After all, her beloved father (Chris O’Donnell) leaves home to search for work in another town; her worried mother (Julia Ormond) takes in a diverse group of boarders (Stanley Tucci, Joan Cusack, Jane Krakowski, Glenne Headley) to prevent foreclosure on their house, which causes Kit to move out of her room and into the attic; and Kit dreads the possibility of having to sell eggs in order to make ends meet. But through it all, this remarkable youngster manages to stay positive and helpful to others.
Breslin, who earned an Oscar nomination for Little Miss Sunshine, charms us again as Kit Kittredge. She’s definitely up to the challenge of carrying a film on her small but sturdy shoulders. Whether projecting surprise while learning about soup kitchens and hobo camps or begging her mom to take home a dog (whose owners can no longer feed the animal) or writing furiously at her typewriter or standing up for her friends, Breslin’s Kit is always believable.
Kudos also to the other child actors, especially Zach Mills (one of the elves in The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause) and Willow Smith, who both stole my heart. Plus, I think handsome teenager Max Thieriot (The Astronaut Farmer) shows significant star potential. He does a great job projecting a combination of sensitivity and masculinity as the misunderstood hobo here.
My only complaints about Kit Kittredge involve director Patricia Rozema’s (Mansfield Park) slow pacing at the beginning of the film and Joan Cusack’s tendency to “chew the scenery” too much as a mobile librarian with very bad driving habits. Cusack (Raising Helen) usually delivers first-rate performances, but this one is a disappointment. Also, it would’ve been a kick to see more of Jane Krakowski (from TV’s 30 Rock). Playing a flirty dance teacher, she teases us with a brief Charleston number, one that makes it obvious more camera time for her character could have livened things up considerably.
Still, with a fine script by Ann Peacock (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and inspired by the American Girl dolls and stories of Valerie Tripp, Kit Kittredge presents a wonderful role model for pre-teen girls as well as a humanistic history lesson about the Depression era for all viewers
(Released by New Line Cinema and Picturehouse Entertainment; rated “G” as suitable for all ages.)
For more information about this film, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.