Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, based on the franchise of American Girl, books, dolls, magazine, etc., opens up several worlds for viewers. The story takes place in 1934 during the Great Depression, and everything about the movie drives home what it was like to live through those heart-wrenching times. Hardships aside, the film offers incredible inspiration through the fortitude of a plucky 9-year-old trying to survive her family’s unexpected ordeal.
When the foreclosure sign gets pounded into the ground of her neighbors’ property, Kit Kittredge (Abigail Breslin) receives assurance from her father that this will never happen to them. He also promises Kit they will never have to sell eggs to survive. It’s her most humiliating thought. Jack Kittredge (Chris O'Donnell) soon has to eat his own words when the car dealership he works for closes, his car is taken, and he must leave town to look for another job.
Kit’s mother Margaret (Julia Ormond) tries to keep her composure so she won’t frighten Kit. They agree to grow their own vegetables and take in boarders. Kit also decides to write and hopefully sell newspaper articles to the Cincinnati Register. Of course, editor Gibson (Wallace Shawn) won’t even look at her work.
Abigail Breslin & Julia Ormond
Kit realizes things are really bad when Mom announces they do indeed need to sell eggs. However, Kit keeps busy with her best friends Ruthie (Madison Davenport), and Frances (Brieanne Jansen), while mom is busy with the garden club and keeping up the “everything is okay” image with a festive luncheon.
When approached by Will (Max Thieriot) and Countee (Willow Smith), two young hobos looking to trade work for food, Kit drags them to the backyard. Against the disapproving frowns and gasps of her socialite friends, Margaret proves just what kind of woman she is when she offers the boys a job and some bites-sized sandwiches right off the fancy glass plate.
The Kittredge home is soon a three-ring circus of inhabitants as colorful boarders find a spot to call home. There’s the entertaining librarian Miss Bond (Joan Cusack), who can drive but runs the book mobile into everything when she’s trying to stop. Mrs. Howard (Glenne Headly) and her adorable son Sterling (Zach Mills) move in, as does a cagey magician (Stanley Tucci), who astounds everyone with his magic. Simple days in the tree house soon turn into a full scale reporter’s job when Will and Countee are accused of stealing from people’s homes, and Kit sets out to prove them innocent.
Stanley Tucci & Joan Cusack
The movie’s entire cast is exceptional. Turning beautiful actresses into humbled characters of the depression era must result in believable performances. Astounding costumes and sets help, but all the actresses definitely pull their weight. Helping to bump up the occasional humor in the story, which at one point is almost like a Charlie-Chaplin chase, are Tucci and Cusack, who liked what she saw in the script.
“It’s a very empowering movie about little girls and confidence,” said Cusack.
O’Donnell (Batman & Robin) saw something in the script that made him agree to his role as Kit’s father. “I really wanted to do something for my daughter,” he said. “Today we’re just super-consumers…but it wasn’t always like this. At a time that was really tough for our country, you get a chance to see how families stuck together.”
Breslin, Ormand & O'Donnell
The Oscar-nominated Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)), Hollywood’s new “it” girl, has no problem spinning any character her way, but prime acting skills are also on display from Mills (Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium), Thieriot (Jumper) and Will Smith’s daughter, Willow (I Am Legend).
Screenwriter Ann Peacock has done a wonderful job adapting Valerie Tripp’s stories into a great family film that serves up something for everyone. Kids get laughs and inspiration while learning about tolerance and history. Moms can re-connect to resourcefulness – something very handy in these tough times – and dad’s can be assured it’s okay to lose a job, just keep that chin up and don’t stop trying.
With a plethora of violent and drug-related movies streaming into theaters faster than a Star Wars battleship, the heartfelt Kit Kittredge: An American Girl offers an enjoyable breath of fresh air.
Photo credits: Cylla von Tiedemann/Picturehouse films