July 10, 2008

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Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (G)
A future reporter with can-do spirit pluckily faces the Great Depression, investigates mysteries and even befriends hobos in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, a plucky can-do movie based on the books from the American Girl series.

Kit Kittredge (Abigail Breslin) has the perfect 1930s reporter name alliteration, and she has the fire that keeps her glued to her typewriter turning out stories about life in her neighborhood, so she can’t quite understand why the editor of the big Cincinnati daily doesn’t jump at the chance to publish her stories (she sees her kid-ness as offering just the kind of “fresh” writing he’s looking for). Soon, however, her stories of daily life in her comfortable suburb become a reflection of national news. Her neighbors, best friends and members of her treehouse club, are kicked out of their home when the bank forecloses on their house. And Kit’s father (Chris O’Donnell) soon finds himself out of work when his car dealership goes under for lack of sales.(Frighteningly familiar, some of these details of the 1930s.)

But the Kittredge family isn’t one to give up. Dad will go to Chicago to look for work and Mom (Julia Ormond) has decided to move Kit into the attic, herself into the sewing room and rent the other rooms out to boarders. Kit helps with the chores and, in spite of the hardships, comes to enjoy life with the boarders including the fluttery dancer (Jane Krakowski), the sardonic magician (Stanley Tucci) and Stirling (Zach Mills), a boy from her class who moves in with his mother. And because the Kittredge family is also quite progressive for its day, Kit’s mom employs a pair of young hobos whom Kit cheerily befriends and even writes about.

There’s a lot of talk about hobos here — the hobo camp site, the hobo language, a “hobo” crime wave which has set the citizens of Cincinnati on edge. It’s all very Annie — except of course that compared to Annie, Kit has it rather easy with her two living parents and her comfy if crowded family home. Annie is, as it turns out, all about a hard-knock life whereas Kit is really more about being selfless and solving mysteries.

What Kit Kittredge really captures is the spirit and excitement of Nancy Drew — even more than the recent Nancy Drew movie did. Kit has the kind of life (strange people in her house, strange times in her city) that probably sounds rather exciting and action-packed to a modern over-scheduled suburban girl. Kit helps her family get through the tough times and she gets a mystery to solve about halfway through the story that allows her and her friends to investigate, hide in closets and say things like “I just know it can’t be so-and-so but we need to find proof because the police won’t listen to us kids.” While this probably doesn’t make for a movie adults (or a boy of any age) will rush the theater to see, this kind of story, blending family togetherness and one girl’s desire to get things done, is immensely appealing to its young girl audience. Kit Kittredge really is light and plucky fun. B

Rated G. Directed by Patricia Rozema and written by Ann Peacock (from the books by Valerie Tripp), Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is an hour and 31 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Picturehouse.