The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Will 10-year-old girls embrace 'Kit Kittredge: An American Girl'?

June 19, 2008 |  1:03 pm

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

One of the producers of "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl," which opens Friday in Los Angeles before going wide July 2, checked in with me recently, hoping to get me to see her new film, which stars Abigail Breslin as a plucky 10-year-old girl growing up in 1934-era Cincinnati. I suspect the word was out that I had a 10-year-old kid myself and might be a soft touch if my kid liked the movie.

It was a good idea, except that I have a 10-year-old boy, whose only interest in Cincinnati is that they have a baseball team. He would probably be the first to tell you that the Cincinnati Reds were so bad in 1934 that they had not one but two pitchers who lost more than 20 games. I dutifully showed my son the trailer for the film. But afterward, when I asked if he wanted to see it, he gave me the look he reserves for questions like, "Do you want another helping of broccoli?" However, he suggested we recruit his best friend, Grace, an actual 10-year-old girl, to review the movie. It seemed like a good idea, especially since the film is quite the exercise in girl power, with a woman writer (Ann Peacock, who co-wrote "The Chronicles of Narnia"), a woman director (Patricia Rozema, who did "Mansfield Park") and eight producers and executive producers (including Julia Roberts!), all of them women.

Since Variety weighed in today with its review, it seemed like a good time to have a look at what Grace had to say. As it turns out, critics and kids all seem to be in agreement--it's a perfect film for moms and daughters to see. Variety calls it "a throwback to the kinds of movies they don't make anymore." But here's a pretty perceptive assessment from the real target audience:

Grace_slansky_2 Hello. I'm Grace Slansky, a 10-year-old reporter much like Kit Kittredge, reviewing "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl ."

I think the movie was better than the title. The title didn’t say anything about the story. It wasn’t as childish and girly as I thought it would be. It was more about what was happening then, in the Great Depression.

Kit Kittredge is a girl who just wants to be published in a newspaper. She goes to the Cincinnati Register and everyone laughs in her face. But she is determined. Then her family starts to run out of money, and her dad has to move to Chicago to see if he can find work. They end up taking in boarders, selling eggs and wearing chicken feed sack dresses. And then one of the hobos her mother had hired was blamed for a robbery. But Kit wouldn’t believe that he did it. She saw this as her big chance to write a story.

The boarders that stayed in her house were a magician, the magician’s hurt cousin, a mobile librarian, a mother and her son who goes to class with Kit and a dance instructor. Kit had a dog, a basset hound, Grace. And the magician’s cousin had a monkey. County and Will were the two hobos that were hired to work for them in exchange for food. They showed the children how to read hobo signs, which they put in front of houses to tell other hobos if the people inside were nice.

This was maybe the coolest part of the movie. A cat on a fencepost means that someone is a nice person. A fish bone means they have good garbage. Two arrows coming out of a circle means danger. And one arrow coming out of a circle points to a hobo jungle, which is where hobos live.

My favorite character was County, a hobo child.The acting was actually really good. I liked some of the costumes. I liked the dresses made out of chicken feed sacks.

The movie was also somewhat educational. I learned about the Depression, that the bank was taking away people'€™s houses. And I learned how to read Hobo. Not that anybody uses Hobo anymore.

top photo by Cylla von Tiedemann/HBO Films / Picturehouse, photo of Grace Slansky by Liz Dubelman