“Kit Kittredge: An American Girl,” based on the American Girl franchise, opens up several worlds for viewers.
Everything about the film, which is set in 1934 during the Great Depression, 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. 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.
Margaret (Julia Ormond), Kit’s mother, must keep her composure not to frighten her daughter. 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 Mr. Gibson (Wallace Shawn) won’t even look at her work.
Kit realizes things are really bad when Mom announces they do indeed need to sell eggs. However, Kit keeps occupied 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 their own. 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.
The movie’s entire cast is exceptional. Turning beautiful actresses into humbled characters of the Depression Era results in believable performances. Astounding costumes and sets help, but all the actresses definitely pull their weight. Tucci and Cusack bump up the occasional humor in the story.
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 remarkable 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 reconnect to resourcefulness - something very handy in these tough times - and Dad’s can be assured that losing a job is not the end of the world.
With a plethora of violent and drug-related movies streaming into theaters, the heartfelt “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” offers an enjoyable breath of fresh air.