Review by Robert Bell (B-)
Stepping away from the X-rated exploits of HBO's Tell Me You Love Me, Patricia Rozema has taken on some decidedly lighter material with Kit Kittredge, a depression era G-rated Nancy Drew that is based on the popular "American Girl" doll line. It seems logical that a movie based on a plush doll line of merchandise that professes "dress like your doll" as a selling point would be facile and salable, however, the film features some guileless didactics with a heartwarming centre that is only occasionally contrived.
The film follows Kit Kittredge (Abigail Breslin) during the 1930's depression after her father (Chris O'Donnell) has left their home in search of work and her mother (Julia Ormond) has had to take borders into their home in order to make ends meet. Kit's response to change and hardship is initially fearful, acknowledging social stigmas attached to the poor, such as selling eggs and wearing dresses made of chicken feed bags, but like all plucky heroines she makes lemonade when life hands her a bag of manure.
To keep the younger demographic interested, there is an overlying mystery involving a faceless thief with an arm tattoo, who travels from town to town giving a bad name to hobos. As one of Kittredge's central themes is that of acceptance and prevailing kindness, it doesn't take a great deal of genius to predict the road that the film will eventually travel.
Observations about a child's necessity to take on more adult roles in difficult times, in addition to the human tendency to ostracize and condemn those who are different in order to validate their own fragile existence ameliorate the films schmaltzy tendency to be maudlin and banal. For every false scene where the soundtrack forces unearned sentiment, there are moments of truth such as one where a young boy writes a fake letter to his mother from his absent father in order to give her hope and strength.
Color, costume and construction of Kit Kittredge are all top-notch, giving gravity and credibility to the premise, while performances from the cast of seasoned thesps are uniformly effective aside from Joan Cusack whose over-the-top goofiness is both distracting and aggravating. Also, as Kit Kittredge, Abigail Breslin seems to be only partially present, going through the motions appropriately, but never connecting with her character or the audience. Considering the impressive work by some of the other young actors in the film, this appears to be a problem with the young actress rather than one of direction.
The central mystery, along with Kit's journalistic journey are occasionally lost in a story that tries to cover too much ground, but comes together in a third act that ties things together satisfactorily, if unremarkably. "Kittredge" glibly makes heroes and saints of the hobo community while shuffling looks of distain towards gypsies, but only out of ignorance and the necessity of simplifying complex themes for the younger target audience.
Despite some severe pacing issues, more bookish pre-teen girls should find a connection with the titular Kit and her relentless self-preservation and persevering optimism in hard times.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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