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IN SHORT: A Gem of a Family Friendly flick. [Rated G. 100 minutes]
We admit that we sometimes dread sitting for "family friendly" flicks. More often than not they pander to the kidlets and bore those of us who are parental age to tears. Or they assume that the audience has read the source material and lock out those of us -- hey it's the adult demo again! -- out. So here comes Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, already a hit in novel form for girl kidlets and tweens and completely unknown to us.
With one minor flaw in the story telling, the film is a lot of fun. We suspect that boys just out of that tween stage won't sit to stare at star Abigail Breslin. Those just entering, uh, puberty probably will. Breslin, who to our eyes shot this film in two stages as her own growth hormones seem to be kicking in, carries the film well. For the adults in the audience, there are terrific dramatic and comedic performances by Stanley Tucci and Joan Cusack -- and any film managing to balance drama and comic relief as well as this one does, deserves a critical nod (even if the resolution of a big mystery in the plot comes way too easily. More on that later).
Middle aged guy that Cranky is, we get five or ten or so minutes of one Jane Krakowski on the big screen. We'd roll over and beg for five or ten minutes with one Jane Krakowski. Been saying it since her Ally McBeal days <vbg>.
Kit Kittredge is a Depression-era story of a fairly well off family. Dad (Chris O'Donnell) runs a car franchise. Mom (Julia Ormond) lunches with the local ladies, who discuss the awful local situation (what with a hobo encampment springing up outside their town. Hoboes = theft, y'know.) But as the "Liberal Savings Bank" -- that's its name -- forcloses houses in the neighborhood right and left, Kit begins to understand the awfulness of the Depression that is bearing down on her world. Dad loses his franchise and heads to Chicago looking for work. Mom takes in boarders, including a bookmobile driver Miss Bond (Cusack); Mr. Berk (Tucci), a touring magician; and Miss Dooley, a "man-hungry dance instructor" Miss Dooley (Krakowski).
Kit wiles away her days in grade school and the rest of her time in a treehouse built by Dad. There, with best friend Ruthie Smivens (Madison Davenport) and new friend Stirling Howard (Zach Mills). Stirling's mother waits anxiously for the return of her husband. Hopefully with job. Stirling knows better, but that's a well conceived surprise in the film. We've said too much already.
Kit dreams of a job as a reporter for the Cinncinnatti Register, edited by Mr. Gibson (Wallace Shawn), who pays a penny a word -- two or three bucks in a time when a dollar was a dollar! She's but ten years old and Gibson rebuffs her. But Kit Kittredge will not be rebuffed! And a great story lies just a paragraph away . . . <vbg>
The arrival of Berk's cousin Frederick Burke (Dylan Smith) and his pet monkey provides a bit of comic relief and presages the terrible theft of a lock box in the boarding house, containing the valuable possessions of all, renters and Mother Kittredge alike. With all her money, and her husband, gone, Mrs. Kittredge faces the loss of her house. Kit faces the fact that the prime suspects in the theft are hobo kids she as befriended -- Will (Max Thieriot) and Countee (Willow Smith) who barter work for food in the neighborhood.
Can Kit Kittredge: An American Girl solve the crimes, exonerate her friends, and save her house from the clutches of the Liberal Savings Bank? Yeah, well, we grew up on several dozen Hardy Boys novels. The hero always figures out the mystery, even if it comes way too easy for them in the story. That's the case here and it's something that would be noticeable only to, say, a grown-up critic watching the film with a jaundiced (and Hardy Boys tainted) eye. We sat for the film is a screening room filled with girls, little and otherwise, who had read the book or knew the stories, and they were squealing with delight. We put nothing past these youngsters. We had no problem sitting and enoying the film.
Though we normally rate movies on a scale of one to One to Ten Bucks [aka an averaged ticket price] we don't do that with family oriented films. Either they work for the kids or the adults and we make that distinction with a simple thumbs up or down (thanks to a reader named Ebert! Hope your recovery goes well.) Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is one of those rare occurences in which a film works for both.
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