Americana Movie Month: "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" Review

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The American Girl brand is brought to the big screen for the very first time with this inspirational tale of a 10-year-old girl named Kit Kittredge (Abigail Breslin). Young, bright and resourceful, Kit dreams of one day becoming a reporter. Growing up during the Great Depression, she must help her mother run a boardinghouse in Cincinnati after her father loses his job.
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Americana Movie Month: "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" Review

-- Rating: G (General Audiences)
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: July 2, 2008
Directed by: Patricia Rozema
Genre: Family/Drama

The setting of "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" is Cincinnati in the 1930s, just as the Great Depression has taken a grip on the country. At first, Kit (Abigail Breslin) seems oblivious to what is going on around her, spending her days in her beloved tree house typing out stories on her typewriter in the hopes of being a reporter one day. Then one day, her father's (Chris O'Donnell) car dealership goes under, and he is forced to leave town to try and find work, since there is nothing local to be had. Meanwhile, her mother Margaret (Julia Ormond) makes use of the sprawling Kittredge house to take in paying boarders in the hopes of keeping up with the mortgage.

While the boarders are living in the house, Margaret hides her few valuables in a lockbox, which she then hides in case any of them happen to be thieves. Unfortunately, this safeguard is not nearly enough, and the box goes missing just as Margaret gets desperate enough to try and sell what the box contains. Immediately, the group of hobos who live under a nearby bridge are blamed, since they take on many of the odd jobs around town that would give them access to valuables like Margaret's. This puts Kit in a predicament, since she is good friends with young Will (Max Thieriot), who is one of the hobos in question. When he is collared for the crime, she sets out to use her aspiring reporter's skills to find out who really committed the theft.

While she is busy investigating, Kit is put through a bit of an emotional ringer as she deals with her dad's absence. She also loves the quirky boarders, including Stanley Tucci as a magician, but cringes as they seem to join the rest of the neighborhood in blaming the hobos for everything that is going wrong in town lately. She has to put her head down and trust in her instincts and beliefs in order to find out what really happened and help her mom get the box back before the bank kicks them out of their home. It is a tall order for someone who is barely nine years of age, but Kit is more than ready to step up to the challenge.

Breslin is fun and has plenty of spunk, which allows her to easily carry the movie on her tiny little shoulders. She shows much of the same screen presence and emotional depth that she displayed in the superb "Little Miss Sunshine." She has an almost preternatural talent for acting and emoting with her eyes, which is on full display as she learns some tough life lessons. It's nice to see so many strong females besides Breslin in big roles both in front of and behind the camera. The writers, director, and several producers are all women, a rarity in the movie industry.

The film is set during the Great Depression era in the 1930s, but some of the events regarding money and finances are still eerily relevant today. The Kittredges are barely making ends meet and have to take on boarders to pay the mortgage on their home. Meanwhile, their neighbors come home to find their furniture out on the lawn at the behest of the foreclosing bank. In 2008, the year of the film's release, much of the same was happening in the United States because of the recession that brought the country to its knees for awhile. The site of the hobos underneath the bridge living in tents is not unlike what some newly homeless families were enduring after their homes went into foreclosure. It sadly makes "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" one of the most relatable films set in that bygone era.

Though the name of the film would make it seem like it is directed at girls, boys will probably like it equally well. Both genders will get a kick out of the irreverent houseguests at the Kittredge home and be able to relate to the deep friendships that Kit has formed. The film aims to entertain while also imparting some fairly important life lessons on the audience. Those lessons, about tolerance, compassion, and understanding, are universal. In fact, not only will girls and boys love the film, but adults will love it as well, since lots of familiar faces such as O'Donnell and Ormond are on hand to keep them interested until the delightful Breslin wins them over with her charm and wit.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars