Kit Kittredge:  An American Girl

 

            The Depression Era is glamorized in American culture as a time when family mattered, core values were important, people lived very simply but didn’t know they were poor because nobody had very much.  The pace of life was slower.  Most of the American population still lived in small towns, where there was not only a certain familiarity with neighbors, but a kind of accountability, as well, that the anonymity of urban life and the personal isolation of the video age have eroded.  There was no television and no computer, not to mention video games and ipods.  No blackberries or cell phones, either.  People spent their time interacting with one another. 

            “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” is the story of one child of the Depression, who couldn’t help but notice the economic hardship around her.  Kit (Abigail Breslin) lives in a happy little nuclear family:  Mom, Dad, and little brother.  Her Dad sells cars for a living, and comes home to his family every evening.  Kit and her friends play in their treehouse, their ramshackle wooden clubhouse, making solemn vows and telling stories to one another.  So far, fairly idyllic, right?

            But real life intrudes.  The house next door is suddenly foreclosed, and the furniture sold at auction.  The neighbors unexpectedly become “hobos,” previously dismissed as worthless vagrants and freeloaders, but Kit finds out that it’s not so easy to condemn people as lazy who are buffered by circumstances beyond their control.  Soon, the Depression comes to Kit’s house, as well.  Dad (Chris O’Donnell), out of a job, leaves home and takes the bus to Chicago , hoping to find work there.  Mom (Julia Ormond), practical and big-hearted as ever, takes in boarders, raises chickens to sell the eggs, and shares whatever she can.  Even when the two vagrant children (Max Thieriot and Willow Smith) come to the back door asking to work for food, she doesn’t turn them away, either, but tells them to come back in the morning, and she will find chores for them to do, and then she shares her supper. 

            The boarders are an interesting lot, one a librarian (Joan Cusack), another a magician (Stanley Tucci) who turns out to be a thief, in cahoots with other boarders who had formed a team of grifters.  Kit discovers their deceits, learning that not everything is as it appears, nor is everyone who they present themselves to be.  Kit experiences the arrogant dismissiveness of a rich uncle, the humility of wearing feed sacks as dresses, and the family being forcibly separated by poverty.  But she also learns the importance of loyalty, even when times are hard, and the enduring significance of generosity, especially when times are hard. 

            Yes, it sounds a bit schmaltzy, but Abigail Breslin, now the veteran child actor, prevents sweetness from becoming saccharin, or disappointment from turning sour.  We root for her, and her family, because though they are tested, they never quit loving each other.  It’s as if the hardship is a refining fire, forging character.  Sort of like “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us…” (Romans 5: 3-5)

            Yes, the Depression Era is often glamorized in film, and in the memory of the American psyche.  But this feels like a more realistic portrait, even as it features values that the faith-based community is always glad to see displayed on the big screen.

 

Questions For Discussion:

1)      What stories have you heard about the Depression? 

2)      Has your family experienced economic hardship?  What effect has it had?

3)      With the number of recent foreclosures involving the “subprime” housing market, what are the chances that America would again experience an economic depression?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Tex