Greatly depressing

I’m just not as cute now that I’m pretty.

I’m just not as cute now that I’m pretty.

Rated 2.0

While Abigail Breslin is a charming actress, and it’s nice to see Julia Ormond in a sizeable role again, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl suffers from going in too many directions at once. A young, aspiring journalist finds ways to cope during the Great Depression, and those diversions range from being totally boring to mildly amusing.

Breslin plays the title character, an ambitious young girl looking to make it in the newspaper business. Based on a popular line of dolls and books, this character could be the basis of a decent, more focused movie. I liked her sparring with a newspaper editor (a funny Wallace Shawn) in an attempt to get her stories about fairs and hobos printed. I probably could’ve enjoyed a whole film with that aspect of the story.

Unfortunately, the movie also deals with the Great Depression in a very whitewashed way and plops a dopey robbery mystery on top of Kit’s journalistic aspirations. It doesn’t help that director Patricia Rozema lets her film get out of control, allowing it to devolve into a clumsy, sophomoric mess in the final act. It feels like they pushed the plots for three movies into this installment, and it wears on the patience.

The film begins with signs of impending economic doom in Kit’s hometown of Cincinnati. The neighbor’s house has been foreclosed, classmates are wearing feed sack dresses, and hobos are stopping by her house looking for work. Kit, on her way to a tour of the daily paper, stops to see her father (Chris O’Donnell), who owns a car lot and appears to be doing well. A trip to the local soup house provides Kit with a big surprise, and her world is turned upside down.

O’Donnell is good in his role, although his part is very small. Ormond has to do most of the film’s parental heavy lifting, and she does a good job of it. Kit’s relationship with her parents is handled well, especially when her own family starts to fall on tough times, and Ormond’s character must morph from socialite into survivor. As a means to pay the mortgage, they take in boarders, and while this could’ve provided the film with some colorful characters, it actually turns out to be one of the keys to the film’s demise.

One of the boarders, Miss Bond, is played by the usually reliable Joan Cusack, and her performance is so over-the-top it seems as if it belongs in another movie. Her character’s pivotal scenes in the film’s closing act are performed so poorly, it’s almost as if we are watching the film’s gag reel, the stuff meant for the cutting room floor. Jane Krakowski and Glenne Headly both get supporting roles as fellow boarders with little to do. It seems as if they were cast strictly for their classic looks because they do little to add to the picture. Stanley Tucci, as magician Jefferson Berk, has his moments.

The film really goes off the rails when Kit becomes some sort of private detective, trying to solve some local robberies allegedly perpetrated by hobos. This element of the movie feels tacked on and underdeveloped. It also detracts from the film’s most interesting aspect, Kit’s desire to be a journalist. And while I applaud the idea of giving the youth of today a needed lesson about the Great Depression, this film makes it look like a jolly old good time. Most folks who lived through that era will probably tell you it sucked. My grandpa would probably throw crap at the screen during this film.

Breslin stands a good chance of contracting Dakota Fanning Disease, a key symptom of which is appearing in far too many movies. While Breslin doesn’t seem like an alien in a little girl’s body, as does Fanning, she could wear out her welcome real quick. This is her third film in five months. I need an Abigail Breslin break. (Dakota Fanning update: Her braces are off, and she’s starring in 78 upcoming movies. Actually, only five, but they’re all within a year.)

This movie tanked on its opening weekend. Millions of young kids were more interested in a drunken Will Smith flying around Los Angeles than some precocious sleuth modeled after a doll trying to find out who stole somebody’s broach. Good call kids … good call.