“Kit Kittredge” is remarkable for what it is and just as remarkable for what it is not. It is wholesome but it is not sugary. It is family-friendly but it does not gloss over economic realities and family stress. It is true to the spirit of the 1930’s but respectful of all we have learned since that era about respect and tolerance for differences of race and gender. And it is a good movie with important lessons but it is not one bit dull or preachy. Three cheers for Kit and for producer Julia Roberts for making this movie everything the devoted fans of the American Girls series hope for.
Abigail Breslin (of Little Miss Sunshine) plays Kit, a 1930’s heroine very much in the spirit of spunky 1930’s and 40’s female journalists like Dorothy Thomson and those portrayed in films by Rosalind Russell (His Girl Friday) and Jean Arthur (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). In a nod to those classic movies, this one begins with Kit striding into a Cincinnati newspaper office to ask the editor to print her story. And the editor (Wallace Shawn) is every bit as choleric as newspaper editors in 1930’s movies always are.
But Kit will soon have bigger challenges than being underestimated by a grumpy newspaper editor. All around her, families are struggling because of the economic problems. Fathers are losing their jobs and her friends are losing their homes. Kit’s own beloved daddy (Chris O’Donnell) has to leave to try to find work in Chicago. And she and her mother (Julia Ormond) have to open up their home to boarders to make ends meet.
Some of the people around her become fearful and suspicious but Kit and her mother maintain their sense of optimism and generosity, sharing what little they have. A courageous pair of young hobos insist on working for the food they get from Kit’s mother and they introduce Kit to a community of homeless people who help each other any way they can.
Kit enjoys the boarders, especially a lively dancer (“30 Rock’s” Jane Krakowski), and a friendly magician (Stanley Tucci). She takes comfort in some small distinctions — unlike her friends, she has not lost her house or had to sell eggs or wear dresses made from a flour sack. And her father has promised to keep writing. But then things get tougher. And they get toughest of all when every penny her family has is stolen and it looks like the thief is her friend.