Bleak Past Catches Up To a Troubled Present

Abigail Breslin and Julia Ormond in
Abigail Breslin and Julia Ormond in "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl." (By Cylla Von Tiedemann -- Picturehouse)
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By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 29, 2008

The new feature film "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" might be a tale of childhood some 80 years ago, but it hits awfully close to home. Especially when that home has just been foreclosed upon.

The movie, a Depression-era tale, highlights one effect of setting a fictional story in an all-too-real and relevant past: History lessons become current-event lessons.

"Kit Kittredge," which hits theaters Wednesday, is the latest spawn in the American Girl franchise of dolls, books, accessories and TV films. And as producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas says, the American Girl line bridges the gap "so you realize that no matter how much time has gone by, not much has changed."

American Girl is based on the concept of teaching through lovable and uplifting creations. So in that vein, "Kit Kittredge," which stars recent Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine"), is the story of a precocious 10-year-old coping amid financial hard times.

Talk about timing. With foreclosures rampant, gas prices soaring well past $4 a gallon and many families struggling in 2008, this G-rated tribute to pluck and perseverance is what Goldsmith-Thomas calls a "living history lesson."

Witness an early scene:

Two young siblings watch helplessly as their belongings are removed from their home -- including a child's bed with love-worn stuffed animals still resting on the sheets. A foreclosure sign has been pounded into the lawn.

"Where will they go?" asks their pal Ruthie, whose still-prosperous father owns the bank that foreclosed upon her friends' property.

"I don't know," whispers Kit.

The next day, there is no sign of the sisters at school, although there is plenty of talk from a loudmouthed boy about how that family is just "good-for-nothing deadbeat egg-sellers."

(The younger sibling is played by a girl who worriedly told Goldsmith-Thomas that, coincidentally, one of her friends had just lost her home. "She wanted to know, 'What does this mean, exactly?' " Goldsmith-Thomas says. "She was really scared.")

Home foreclosure is a dominant theme in the film. The Kittredges take in boarders -- including a mother and son who lost their home (Dad has gone off to New York to try to find work) -- before facing foreclosure themselves.

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