Do yourself a favor. Do a favor for the kids you like and love.
Take them to see “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl.” Not just girls you like and love. Boys, too. If you are an adult, you will have a good time — a doubly good time, because in addition to pleasing your young guests, I think you will like this one, too.
Like some of you, perhaps, I went into this with a partly jaundiced eye. I’m not the Nancy Drew type and I have trouble sitting through kid stuff stuffed with clichés, especially films that talk down to children. But it took only a few minutes to warm up to this depression-era movie based on the American Girl doll collection and book series in which I have no interest. If anything, I cast my other wary eye on potential ads for dolls.
Far from being a commercial, “Kit Kittredge” has heart, integrity, and even a built-in cultural history lesson. And it features a splendid cast headed by Abigail Breslin, who was the title darling in “Little Miss Sunshine.”
It’s Cincinnati, and with the help of her dad (Chris O’Donnell), Kit, an aspiring junior reporter, gains entrée into a newsroom run by a nasty editor played by Wallace Shawn. When Kit finally meets the testy guy, he chafes at the idea of a feature story about hobos, the now-dated sobriquet for the homeless. In school, some kids are already ridiculing families who cannot hold on to their homes, and as a result, resort to raising chickens and selling eggs.
Soon, the compassionate Kit has a comeuppance of her own. Her dad loses his auto franchise, and when he leaves for work in another city, she and her mother (Julia Ormond) not only buy some chicks but take in boarders like a magician played by Stanley Tucci, a dance instructor, (Jane Kratkowski), and their former neighbors, a mother and son played by Glenn Headley and Zach Mills. Joan Cusack shows up as a wacky librarian who takes a room, happily disrupting the two hobo children (Max Theriot and Willow Smith, offspring of Will.)
“Kit Kittredge” comes to us with the jolly abandon of a Hardy Boys serial, especially when Kit and friends investigate and solve a series of robberies. But beneath its narrative there’s a poignant reminder of the buoyantly joyful camaraderie that can result from hardships; when people tacitly acknowledge “we are all in this together.”
Needless to say, with foreclosures and other economic problems in the news, the scenario implicitly addresses issues facing a growing number of Americans in our time as well.
As I mentioned, most of the performances are splendid. The multi-talented Ormond, who has yet to find a niche with American audiences, is excellent as the mother, while Breslin is delightful as Kit. My only quibble is with Cusack, who hams up her offbeat character to the point of mild irritability.
‘Kit Kittredge: An American Girl’
DIRECTED BY Patricia Rozema
SCREENPLAY BY Ann Peacock, based on the stories by Valerie Trapp
STARRING Abigail Breslin, Julia Ormond, Chris O’Donnell, Joan Cusack, Stanley Tucci, Max Theriot, Jane Kratkowski and Glenn Headley
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes