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KITT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL(director: Patricia Rozema; screenwriters: Ann Peacock/Kit Kittredge stories by Valerie Tripp; cinematographer: David Boyd; editor: Julie Rogers; music: Joseph Vitarelli; cast: Abigail Breslin (Margaret Mildred “Kit” Kittredge), Julia Ormond (Mrs. Margaret Kittredge), Chris O’Donnell (Mr. Jack Kittredge), Jane Krakowski (Miss Dooley), Wallace Shawn (Mr. Gibson), Max Thieriot (Will Shepherd), Willow Smith (Countee), Glenne Headly (Mrs. Howard), Zach Mills (Stirling Howard), Kenneth Welsh (Uncle Hendrick), Madison Davenport (Ruthie Smithens), Joan Cusack (Miss Bond), Stanley Tucci (Jefferson Berk), Dylan Scott Smith (Freidreich), Douglas Nyback (Billy), Martin Doyle (Teacher), Colin Mochrie (Mr. Pennington); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: G; producers: Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas/Lisa Gillan/Ellen Brothers/Julie Goldstein; Picturehouse and New Line Cinema; 2008)
“Its realism is Hollywood at its most hokey.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Aims to please the Shirley Temple crowd as a throwback old-fashioned sweet family film with nothing lurid, as it offers a sugarcoated telling of the past. This dubious enterprise is based on a doll manufactured and sold by a subsidiary of Mattel, under the heading “American Girl,” that was created to teach young girls life and American history lessons by handling its dolls. It’s the fourth American Girl feature and the first made with a large budget for movie houses and not for TV. Julia Roberts is the executive producer and one of the co-producers is Mattel exec Ellen L. Brothers. Canadian director Patricia Rozema (“Mansfield Park”/”I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing”) bases it on the Kit Kittredge stories by Valerie Tripp, and it’s written by Ann Peacock. If you’re a young girl or a parent sick of the violent trend many recent movies have taken, this kid-friendly film might be the kind of safe one you think you can chance seeing. For others, it’s a heavy-going dull film that aims to show the hobos in a good light and how bad times can adversely affect even good people who do no wrong. It’s set during the Great Depression in 1934, in Cincinnati (actually filmed in Toronto), and is seen through the eyes of the spunky upper-middle-class can-do 10-year-old Margaret Mildred “Kit” Kittredge (Abigail Breslin), who aspires to be a reporter and in the process of practicing her craft turns into a Nancy Drew character. Its realism is Hollywood at its most hokey.

Kit lives in an affluent, tree-lined neighborhood with well-built comfortable private homes. She observes that the bad financial times have caused neighbors to lose their homes to the banks by foreclosure. Kit meets two homeless youngsters, the teenager Will (Max Thieriot) and a much younger black youngster Countee (Willow Smith), who live in the nearby hobo camp, by the railroad tracks in the outskirts of the city, and do handyman work around the house for food. Because Kit’s nice dad Jack (Chris O’Donnell) lost his car dealership, is unemployed and is spotted on the soup kitchen line by Kit, he splits for Chicago to find work. Kit’s nice resourceful mom Magaret (Julia Ormond) takes in a motley collection of colorful boarders to survive and help pay off the mortgage. The boarders include the flirty dance instructor Miss Dooley (Jane Krakowski); the nutty mobile librarian Miss Bond (Joan Cusack); the smooth-talking traveling stage magician Mr. Berk (Stanley Tucci); and the Kittredge’s former neighbor, the prim Mrs. Howard (Glenn Hedley) and her sensitive big-eared son Stirling (Zach Mills), who happens to be Kit’s classmate. The perky Kit keeps busy by attending school, meeting with her close friends who have formed a secret club in the treehouse in her yard and pestering the gruff gasbag “Cincinnati Register” city editor Mr. Gibson (Wallace Shawn) to print her child’s account of the Chicago World’s Fair taken from visitors she interviewed.

A crime wave is sweeping Cincinnati and the hobos are unfairly blamed. When the moneybox kept in the Kittredge house is stolen and the polite hobo Will is blamed, Kit uses her reporter’s skills to track down the real culprits and thereby the tarnished name of the hobos is restored and Gibson publishes her first-hand story.

Where this erroneous do-gooder politically correct family-oriented period comedy fails to entertain is that every character was a stereotype and every thing is phony, disingenuous, cliched and obvious; plus all happenings are annoyingly telegraphed well in advance, slowing the thin film down to a crawl’s pace.

Incidentally, if you want to purchase the Kit doll and all its accessories, it’ll cost you over a $100. Certainly not a cheap gift for a young girl. But then again, it’s no great surprise, as the film seemed as unreal and as commercial as the company pushing its doll products. And Breslin, the pixie-like child star, seems less like a real character than a calculating professional child actor wound up to perform. If you want to see a genuinely endearing performance from a child actor, shop and compare by checking out Tatum O’Neal in the superior “Paper Moon.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”