Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

In “Kit Kittredge,” the first feature film based on the hugely popular American Girl book series, Abigail Breslin (Oscar nominee for “Little Miss Sunshine”) is well cast as a plucky, highly resourceful girl whose bravery, compassion and determination help her solve a mystery that saves her family's home during the Great Depression.

As directed by Patricia Rozema (“I Hear the Mermaids Singing,” “Mansfield Park”), from a screenplay by Ann Peacock (“Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”), “Kit Kittredge” is an old-fashioned tale in the positive sense of the term, representing the kind of fare that Hollywood used to make during the Golden Age but doesn't anymore.

As such, the movie should appeal to young girls seeking positive role models, and perhaps to their parents too. Boys may not be lured due to the film's protagonist and its G rating.

Aspiring reporter Kit Kittredge can't resist bringing home strays, whether it's Grace, an abandoned basset hound, or Will (Max Thieriot) and Countee (Willow Smith), a pair
of young hobos willing to trade work for meals. Bright, inquisitive and generous, Kit is a natural born leader, but her happy childhood is abruptly interrupted when her father (Chris O'Donnell in a comeback performance) loses his car dealership and is forced to leave Cincinnati to look for work.

Kit and her mother Margaret (Julia Ormond) are left to manage on their own, growing vegetables, selling eggs, and even taking in an assortment of boarders including an itinerant magician (Stanley Tucci), a vivacious dance instructor on the prowl for a husband (Jane Krakowski) and a zany mobile librarian (Joan Cusack).

When a crime spree sweeps Cincinnati, all signs point to the local hobo jungle, where Will and Countee live with a group of their impoverished companions. Always alert to good, potentially thrilling news story, Kit convinces her new friends to take her to see the hobo camp for herself and writes an article that creates a sympathetic portrait of the camp's residents.

Turning point occurs when Kit's mother and their boarders become the latest victims in a string of robberies, and Kit's loyalties are put to test. Will is accused of the crimes and, with all of their savings gone, the Kittredges face losing their house to foreclosure. Determined to recover the stolen money and believing Will is innocent, Kit recruits her friends Ruthie (Madison Davenport) and Stirling (Zach Mills) to help her track down the real culprit. Together they uncover a plot that goes far beyond Cincinnati!

“Kit Kittredge” is more sharply scripted than helmed, presenting most of the events and the era from the consistent POV of a young girl who becomes a witness and a victim of the breakdown of the family institution and society's values and mores as a direct result of the surrounding socio-economic conditions.

Breslin is particularly effective at conveying the conflicted feelings of a girl who loves her parents and yet resents their plight, determined to do “something” about it. In one of the film's most powerful scenes, Kit writes a letter to her father, changing its contents and tone in draft after draft as she goes from feelings of anger and disappointment towards a more reconciliatory and understanding mood.

Dedicated to evoking the right atmosphere, the film's first half is stronger, perhaps because it centers on the characters rather than plot, which kicks in the second half, with Kit as a sleuth determined to resolve the mystery.

As was evident in her previous works, Canadian Rozema is a feminist director attracted to stories and struggles of strong heroines, but lacks the technical facilities to convey them vividly in a cinematically interesting mode. In this picture, she also shows problems in variegating the tone of her saga, veering too much towards the obvious and sentimental, especially in the last reel.

The best thing about the film is Abigail Breslin, a natural performer who doesn't look, act, or behave like a child-star. Young girls will have no problems empathizing with Breslin, who's blessed with a likeable appearance and considerable range that speak well of a lengthy screen career.

While Breslin gives a solid performance that grounds the tale, Julia Ormond is rather weak as her mother; she may be miscast or misdirected. Ultimately, what elevates the film above the routine and adds color to it is the rich gallery of secondary characters, well-acted by Joan Cusack, Glenne Headly, Jane Krakowski, Wallace Shawn, and Stanley Tucci.


Kit Kittredge – Abigail Breslin
Jack Kittredge – Chris ODonnell
Margaret Kittredge – Julia Ormond
Miss Bond – Joan Cusack
Ruthie Smithens – Madison Davenport
Mrs. Howard – Glenne Headley
Miss Dooley – Jane Krakowski
Stirling Howard – Zach Mills
Mr. Pennington- Colin Mochrie
Mr. Gibson – Wallace Shawn
Countee – Willow Smith
Will Shepherd – Max Thieriot
Mr. Berk – Stanley Tucci


A Picturehouse release, presented with New Line Cinema in association with HBO Films, of a Goldsmith-Thomas production, in association with Red Om Films.
Produced by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Lisa Gillan, Ellen L. Brothers, Julie Goldstein.
Executive producers, Julia Roberts, Marisa Yeres. Co-producers, Terry Gould, Jodi Goldberg. Directed by Patricia Rozema.
Screenplay, Ann Peacock, based on the Kit Kittredge stories by Valerie Tripp.
Camera (FotoKem color), David Boyd.
Editor, Julie Rogers.
Music, Joseph Vitarelli; music supervisor, Evyen J. Klean.
Production designer, Peter Cosco.
Art director, Michele Brady.
Set designer, Tucker Doherty; set decorator, Odetta Stoddard.
Costume designer, Trysha Bakker.
Sound, Glen Gauthier; supervising sound editor, Marlena Grzaslewicz.

MPAA Rating: G.
Running Time: 100 Minutes.