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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

I’m always surprised about movies set during The Great Depression because I’ve been living in a great depression of my own for years now and mine is nothing like the one they show in movies. Sure, they usually show a version of a dust bowl somewhere in the Midwest, and, depending on my mood, you can generally find a dustbowl in my Great Depression too ~ it’s blanketing my living room. The movies also tend to feature beautiful and busty ingénues in the lead roles played by actresses way older than the parts which they are acting just as I have reluctantly assumed the mantle of playing an aging dame when in my mind I am still one of those young babes, even if it appears to others I am ambling about in some fat old lady’s body. Somehow this isn’t the way it was supposed to work out, but what’s a Diva to do? Oh, and just as in many cinematic Great Depressions, the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve discovered my life, or more precisely my eyes, have dimmed enough to see the world as if aglow by candle light, framed with soft edges, making everything appear vaguely nostalgic in a “Waltons” (or glaucoma) kind of way. Really, except for the hobos and occasional Gershwin background music, I could be living in the 1930s (and don’t add the word ‘again’ here).

I love hobos. Unfortunately, ever since the word became trés politically incorrect and somebody
decided that we could only refer to people without a place to live as “homeless”, the whole mystique of the hobo has been destroyed. The new movie Kit Kittredge: An American Girl does a terrific example of showing just how people treated hobos back in the day and why the moniker “hobo” became a negative, but I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s a whole lot more to Kit Kittredge: An American Girl than just hobos (but they’re the best part).


First off, the biggest selling point
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl has going for it is its star, Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island). She is either a prodigy or a robot. I’m not sure which, but how many twelve year old girls can claim a résumé that includes an Academy Award nomination (at ten) for Little Miss Sunshine, along with back-to-back hits Definitely, Maybe, No Reservations, and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. If I had the chance, I’d check her back to see if her parents have been using a bullwhip to keep her going from one movie to the next. Honestly, the poor girl is like a work-horse. Still, she is an incredible actress, regardless of her age, and comparisons to Jodie Foster can hardly be avoided because Jodie also started as a remarkable child actress and the obvious hope is that Abigail will be able to seamlessly make the same transition as her predecessor to adult star (and perhaps director?). Here Abigail plays the central role of Kit, only child of a struggling couple living in Cincinnati in 1934. Her father (Chris O’Donnell; Max Payne) loses his car dealership early on due to the Depression and must leave her mother (Julia Ormond; Guerrilla) and Kit to strike out for Chicago in search of a job. Meanwhile, Mrs. Kittredge is forced to swallow her pride and take in boarders in order to keep their home from going into foreclosure like their neighbors’.

Naturally, the boarders are an exotic mix of the interesting, odd and downright strange. There’s a traveling magician named Jefferson Berk (Stanley Tucci; The Devil Wears Prada), who doesn’t seem to have any performance dates scheduled or plans to travel; there’s also the unemployed Rockette-style dancer, Miss Dooley (Jane Krakowski; tv’s “30 Rock”) who practices constantly but never seems to audition anywhere; then there’s a mobile librarian who can’t drive worth beans, which is never a good sign for a mobile librarian, Miss Bond (Joan Cusack; Martian Child); and finally there’s an extremely uptight mother, Mrs. Howard (Glenne Headly; Raising Flagg), and her put-upon son, Stirling (Zach Mills; Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium), who is also a classmate of Kit’s.

There’s barely a moment for poor Julia Ormond to even be on-screen. I found myself wondering if
she got duped into this part without realizing she’d be required to actually take care of the boarders/actors because the only time she does show up she looks harried or she is sound asleep. It’s just as well, since this is Kit’s movie, and Kit has work to do. At ten, Kit has decided to become a reporter for Cincinnati’s daily newspaper even though the paper’s adult reporters and its editor, Mr. Gibson, Wallace Shawn (New York City Serenade), laugh in her face when she presents them with stories she has written. That doesn’t deter Kit, especially when a string of burglaries hit the area, all conveniently blamed on the hobos living at the edge of town. If anything, this rejection from “her peers” just inspires her to solve the case and prove herself and even better writer.

Kit befriends a couple of kids who just happen to be of the hobo persuasion who have come by the house and asked to work for food. Teenager Will ( Max Thieriot; Nancy Drew) and eight-year-old Countee (Willow Smith; I Am Legend) become fast friends and offer to show Kit (and Stirling) the ways of hobo life, even taking them to their hobo encampment and introducing them to their friends, the other hobos, who live there.

Kit’s determination to crack the burglary case becomes especially crucial when the thief hits her own home and Max is accused by the police as the obvious suspect. Will Kit find the real robber and clear her pal’s name? Will she get the money back in time for her mother to pay the mortgage so she and her mom won’t end up kicked to the curb and end up hobos themselves? Will Kit ever get published in the newspaper in spite of Mr. Gibson’s rejections? And, most of all, will her father ever return and their family finally be reunited?

There is so much going on in this film it is hard to imagine it is being marketed as a niche movie aimed specifically to pre-teen girls. True, it is based on a doll and a series of kids’ books, but there is so much here for adults to enjoy. The acting is top-notch; the cinematography is flawless, as are the costumes and props. There is only one tiny detail that bothered me and it had nothing to do with the acting or the sets. It was the wig. You’ll know it as soon as you see it. Poor Abigail Breslin is forced to wear what has to be the most unnatural looking piece of hair since the introduction of Cousin Itt. You’d think after spending millions on every other part of the production Executive Producer Julia Roberts (yes, that Julia Roberts) would have coughed up a few more shekels so Abigail could have worn something other than the bargain of the week from the Paula Young catalog. I’m just sayin’.

As for the hobos, they come off wonderfully in this movie, and it’s too bad the American Girl doll franchise hasn’t come out with a hobo girl so the inevitable sequel could be a hobo spin-off starring a certain female hobo from this film who I can’t ID without spoiling a surprise in the film.

Overall, I think
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl may well have been secretly funded by the Republican Party as a subliminal message in case they actually do get in the White House for another term (Dream on, Mamacita!). Maybe they are trying to ease us into believing that living in poverty and unemployment isn’t such a bad thing. In Kit Kittredge’s world, it just means we’ll meet exciting new friends, learn the true meaning of “family values”, and gosh-darn-it, we’ll all just learn to live a rosy, “We Are The World” existence together in abject poverty and barely notice we haven’t enough money to buy food, but what difference will that make when we can’t put gas in the car to get to the market anyway? Whether that’s true or not (okay, it’s probably not), Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is still a terrific family film and I totally enjoyed every minute. I think you will too.

1 comment:

Doll Clothes Gal said...

Great review - my family loved the movie. My 10 year old daughter wrote her own review on our blog:

http://www.emilycompanies.com/americandollclothes/2008/07/02/emilys-film-review-kit-kettredge-an-american-girl/