In a movie landscape dotted with such heavy-on-the-boy themes as Iron Man and Speed Racer, the first American Girl feature film looms as a breath of fresh girl-powered fun. The first feature film based upon the popular American Girls book series is set in Cincinnati in 1934, the heart of the Great Depression. The story is sweet, funny, sad and a perfect family film. It is also a great antidote to a hot summer afternoon.
The sets and costumes are perfectly replicated and my daughters, who attended the screening with me, were fascinated by the old-fashioned cars, feed sack dresses, and roller skates that tied on.
While chatting with journalists in New York, Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin, who stars as Kit Kittredge, related: “What surprised me most was the typewriter. I said where is the screen?” Miss Breslin’s portrayal of a resourceful and spunky young girl whose main ambition is to become a reporter is wonderful. She brings her sense of playfulness to the role and skillfully shows us Kit’s compassion for the people around her. Kit uses her skills of observation and copious note-taking to solve a mystery that baffles police and, in the process, helps to save her home.
Miss Breslin has been acting since age 3, when she appeared in a Toys R Us commercial. She had great success when director M. Night Shyamalan found her and cast her at age 5 as Mel Gibson’s youngest daughter in Signs. She became the fourth youngest nominee when she garnered an Oscar nod for Little Miss Sunshine in 2006, and she recently shared billing with Jodie Foster in Nim’s Island (2008).
When asked about researching the role, Miss Breslin told reporters that she spoke to her grandmother who lived through the depression. “She told me about people losing their jobs and homes. She even wore the same kind of rollers skates that were in the movie.”
“It was really sad,” observed eleven-year-old Madison Davenport, who plays Kit’s best friend Ruthie, of her research into the Great Depression, “to think that people had to leave their houses and get rid of everything they owned. ”
The film does justice to the time period and there is no glossing over or dumbing down of the tragedy and hardship endured by people in 1934. Bread lines, hobos, homeless friends and foreclosure signs are all part of the story. For all that, though, this is a movie filled with hope and joy. It is about family and friends and compassion and trust.
When her nose for news compels Kit to befriend a pair of young hobos, Will (Max Thierot) and Countee (Willow Smith), willing to trade work for meals, she sets in motion the means to discover who has been behind the crime wave sweeping the city. When her father loses his business and must leave town to seek work elsewhere, Kit and her mother (Julia Ormond) are left on their own and Kit’s household responsibilities increase as they are reduced to taking in boarders in order to keep their home. The boarders are a diverse group, Miss Dooley the dance instructor (Jane Krakowski), Jefferson Berk the musician (Stanley Tucci), Miss Bond the ditzy librarian (Joan Cusak) and Kit’s friend Sterling (Zach Mills) and his mother (Glenne Headly). The cast had great chemistry and each member brought something special to the project.
Taking your family to see this film will spark some conversation with your children, as it did with mine, about the importance of family over things. In the present economy, you can hardly fail to make comparisons and Kit’s mother’s adage of “Use it up, wear it out; make do or do without.” is one that can be taken to heart as easily in 2008 as in 1936.
Kit Kittredge, An American Girl is a family film that is actually worth the price of the ticket. These days that’s saying something.