tek's rating: ½

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (G)
AmericanGirl.com; IMDb; New Line; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Warner Bros.; Wikia; Wikipedia

Caution: potential spoilers.

This is the fourth film in the American Girl series. It's the first (and so far only) one to be released theatrically, in summer of 2008; it was released on DVD on October 28 of that year. This is the second one of the movies I've seen (in 2012, four years after it came out). The movies, which are based on a collection of dolls and books, are all targeted toward preteen girls, whereas I'm an adult male... But, while I have no interest in the dolls or books, there's no reason the movies can't be appreciated by people of any age or gender. This one is probably the best of the lot. And it certainly has a great cast, led by Abigail Breslin as the title character, Margaret 'Kit' Kittredge. It's also the last (so far) of the movies to be based on a "Historical Character" doll; subsequent films in the series are all based on "Girl of the Year" dolls, set in the present (when the movies come out).

The movie is set in 1934, in Cincinnati, Ohio, during the Great Depression. Kit wants to be a reporter, and apparently her older brother has a friend who works for a local paper, so he arranged for her to have a tour of the newspaper office. Though we never actually see her brother in the movie, for a reason which I believe was explained at some point. Anyway, the editor of the paper, Mr. Gibson (played by Wallace Shawn), is not the most friendly guy... though you can hardly blame him for not wanting to publish articles written by a ten-year-old. Though it eventually becomes clear that Kit is actually a fairly decent writer. But there are lots of other things going on in the movie, so the whole journalism thing quickly gets back-burnered (but never forgotten). Throughout the movie, there are people who speak contemptuously of "hobos," treating them as if they're all criminals (and apparently there is a string of thefts attributed to hobos). But it also quickly becomes clear that anyone can fall on hard times, during the Depression, and the bank will foreclose on people's homes. The movie actually does a decent job of avoiding a potential dispute between friends... as one of Kit's best friends is Ruthie Smithens, whose father owns the bank, I guess. And early in the film, a couple of girls who were in a club with Kit and Ruthie had to move away, when their parents lost their house to the bank. Meanwhile, most of the kids at school are just as discriminating against the poor as the adults in town are.

In spite of the fact that Kit's own family seems to be doing alright, the bank soon forecloses on her father's car dealership, which means that unless they find a new source of income, their house could be next. So, her father (Chris O'Donnell) goes to Chicago to look for work, and will be gone for most of the movie. He promises to write to Kit every week, however. Meanwhile, Kit's mother (Julia Ormond) takes in several boarders, to help out financially. There are some other sacrifices that have to be made (such as losing the car, the phone, and- gasp!- eating leftovers, can you imagine!?), but the main thing is the boarders. The idea bothers Kit at first, but she soon comes to like them, for the most part. There's a magician named Mr. Berk (Stanley Tucci), a dance instructor named Miss Dooley (Jane Krakowski), a "mobile librarian" named Miss Bond (Joan Cusack), a woman named Mrs. Howard (whose husband was apparently looking for work in New York), and her son Stirling (a classmate of Kit and Ruthie's). They're definitely a quirky bunch (well, not so much Mrs. Howard, who seems to disapprove of pretty much everyone). But in spite of hard times, Kit's mother remains a kind and generous person. For one thing, she allows Kit to take in a dog named Grace, whose owners could no longer afford to feed her. But more importantly, there were a pair of hobos, a young man named Will Shepherd (who was probably about 20), and his young traveling companion, Countee, whose father had died of influenza. They offer to work for food, and Mrs. Kittredge does manage to find jobs for them around the house. Meanwhile, Will and Countee become friendly with Kit, Ruthie, and Stirling (though of course Mrs. Howard doesn't want her son associating with hobos).

Anyway, eventually the Smithenses' house gets robbed, and not long after that a lock box containing all of the Kittredges' money and various valuable belonging to their boarders also gets stolen. And all the evidence points toward Will being the culprit, though Kit doesn't believe it, and uses her investigative skills to try to prove him innocent, and find the guilty party. Of course, she's helped by Ruthie and Stirling. I don't want to say how all that turns out, but I did find the truth somewhat predictable. (Well, I predicted it, but I was really just guessing, and could just as easily have been wrong.) Anyway, it's definitely a decent movie. Pretty old-fashioned, which is as it should be. The characters were likable (especially Kit), and it had an interesting historical perspective, which should be educational for the actual target audience. And it was sad in some parts, funny in other parts, heartwarming in still other parts (particularly the end, of course). And I guess that's all I can think to say. But it's definitely something that I think could be enjoyed by more than just young girls.


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