Stop the Presses: 'Kit Kittredge' Is Pure Kid Stuff

Abigail Breslin stars as Kit Kittredge i

Precocious Kit Kittredge (Abigail Breslin) battles injustice during the Depression. Cylla von Tiedemann/New Line Cinema hide caption

itoggle caption Cylla von Tiedemann/New Line Cinema
Abigail Breslin stars as Kit Kittredge

Precocious Kit Kittredge (Abigail Breslin) battles injustice during the Depression.

Cylla von Tiedemann/New Line Cinema

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

  • Director: Patricia Rozema
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 101 minutes

Rated G: Little Miss Sunshine playing with puppy dogs? About as wholesome as you can get.

Mr. Berk (Stanley Tucci) and Miss Bond (Joan Cusack) bring whimsy to the Kittredge home. i

Mr. Berk (Stanley Tucci) and Miss Bond (Joan Cusack) bring whimsy to the Kittredge home. Cylla von Tiedemann/New Line Cinema hide caption

itoggle caption Cylla von Tiedemann/New Line Cinema
Mr. Berk (Stanley Tucci) and Miss Bond (Joan Cusack) bring whimsy to the Kittredge home.

Mr. Berk (Stanley Tucci) and Miss Bond (Joan Cusack) bring whimsy to the Kittredge home.

Cylla von Tiedemann/New Line Cinema

Aching to bust into print, aspiring reporter Kit Kittredge scores two major scoops: The American economic system is pitiless to losers, and the American social system is cruel to outsiders.

This could be controversial stuff, except that Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is set during the Great Depression. Plus, Kit is 10 years old — and literally a doll.

Impersonated here by Little Miss Sunshine star Abigail Breslin, Kit was born as one of the historical-period dolls marketed by the American Girl empire. Set in 1934 Cincinnati, the movie begins by chronicling the Kittredge family's fall from the middle class.

At first, Kit can help her friends whose parents have lost everything and adopt a dog whose owners can no longer feed her. Then the bank seizes the auto dealership run by her dad (Chris O'Donnell), and he hits the road looking for work.

Mom (Julia Ormond) starts taking in boarders, including traveling magician Mr. Berk (Stanley Tucci) and dotty librarian Miss Bond (Joan Cusack). As status-conscious as any child, Kit is mortified.

But she doesn't have time to dwell on her diminished circumstances, because she's introduced to people who have it even worse: the hobos, including two close to Kit's age, Will (Max Thieriot) and Countee (Willow Smith).

When inhabitants of the local hobo camp are defamed as thieves, and Will and Countee are singled out for accusation, Kit promptly investigates. More Nancy Drew than Barbara Walters, young Miss Kittredge doesn't just report the story, she also cracks the case, identifying the actual crooks.

Kit Kittredge was directed by Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema, who courted controversy with a revisionist Mansfield Park and such lesbian romances as When Night Is Falling. But she doesn't take any risks with the American Girl franchise, bringing everything down to grade-school level.

While the kids are engaging, most of the adult performers are bland and stiff — save for Cusack, who's so nutty it's almost disturbing. Her bizarre performance aside, this well-meaning escapade offers little for adults. Chaperones can just smile indulgently and hope that their American girl will turn out to be as smart, plucky and fair-minded as Kit Kittredge.

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