July 8, 2008 -- “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” is a nice little old-fashioned family film set during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Despite the grim setting, the film is upbeat and warm-hearted. Kids should get a lot out of this film. It not only has a good story, but it gives valuable historic information about the depression. I know about the depression mainly from stories my parents and older relatives told me. They lived through the depression and it had a profound impact on them. Young children today probably don't hear those stories anymore.
Kit Kittredge (played by Abigail Breslin of “Little Miss Sunshine”) has a strong desire to be a newspaper reporter. Living in Cincinnati, she writes stories about the Chicago World's Fair and other subjects. Her articles are rejected by the editor, Mr. Gibson (Wallace Shawn of “Melinda and Melinda”) but she keeps churning out the articles anyway. She is oblivious of the depression until she spots her own father (Chris O'Donnell of “Kinsey”) eating at a soup kitchen after his car dealership is lost to foreclosure. Her father leaves to find work in Chicago, while her mother, (Julia Ormond of “Smila's Sense of Snow”) turns the family home into a boarding house to raise money to pay the mortgage. As more of her neighborhood friends lose their homes to foreclosure, Kit is forced to come to terms with the realities of the depression.
A variety of odd characters comes to stay at the Kittredge boarding house. One is a woman with a mobile library service, Miss Bond (Joan Cusack of “War, Inc.”). Another is a traveling magician, Jefferson Berk (Stanley Tucci of “The Hoax”) and his brother, Freidreich (Dylan Scott Smith of “300”). There is also a dance instructor and a couple of children with their mothers. From one of them, Kit learns that the child's absent father will not be returning. She begins to worry that she may lose her own home and that her own father may never return. A kind of myth arises at school that those who sell eggs are just one step away from foreclosure. She is horrified to find both chickens and feed on her front lawn one day.
A distraction from Kit's personal troubles comes along when a local hobo boy, Will Shepherd (Max Thieriot of “Jumper”), is accused of theft. Will and his friend, Countee (Willow Smith of “I Am Legend”) have been doing work for Mrs. Kittredge. Kit is convinced that the kindly Will is not a criminal and sets to work to prove his innocence. Her adventure will take her to nearby hobo camps, where she learns their secret language, and the fact that hobos are people like everyone else. She also learns of a string of crimes associated with hobos. Her investigation leads to a startling conclusion. The film's ending is upbeat, as one might expect from this kind of throwback family film. The film is as realistic and historically accurate as one might expect for a film that is essentially upbeat.
The acting is very good from this talented cast and the story is well-constructed and compelling. The film's production, set and costume design all evoke a remote time and place vividly. Most of all, the film is a good primer on the effects of the depression on families and children. It is also ominous, given the fact that some economists think the current economic recession we are now entering will be the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. If I have to start selling eggs, that will be a very bad sign. This film rates a B.
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