KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL — ** 1/2 — Abigail Breslin, Julia Ormond, Chris O'Donnell; rated G (violence, slurs); Carmike 12; Megaplex District and Jordan Commons

There's certainly nothing wrong with a little earnestness in a movie — especially when it's a supposed kids film like "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl."

But this Great Depression-era period piece tries so hard to make a point that it becomes overwhelmingly earnest at times. And that explains why its later attempts at comedy are so broad and goofy.

As a result, it is a bit of a mixed package, though it features a good message about tolerance and acceptance, and is one of the more appropriate films that have been aimed at younger audiences and their families lately.

The movie also has a good lead: young Abigail Breslin, who stars as the title character. Kit is a would-be journalist who keeps trying to get a Cincinnati publisher (Wallace Shawn) to print one of her articles.

She has no end of tales to tell either, especially when she sees her friends and their families losing their houses. The Depression really hits home, though, when Kit's father (Chris O'Donnell) loses his car dealership and is forced to hit the road to look for a new job.

In the meantime, her mother (Julia Ormond) has to rearrange their home and take in boarders — including a "mobile librarian" (Joan Cusack) and a magician (Stanley Tucci) — just to make ends meet.

Kit and her mother also show kindness to the less-privileged, such as hard-working, teenage drifter Will Shepherd (Max Thieriot). But given the air of suspicion with which these "hobos" are viewed, that makes them all unpopular.

This is some pretty ambitious material for a G-rated movie, and at times director Patricia Rozema and screenwriter Ann Peacock don't know quite what to do with it. The sudden tone shifts — at times it's a comedy, other times it's a drama, and there's a strong mystery component — are pretty jarring.

Frankly, they are lucky to have this cast. Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine") pretty much charms her way through some rough patches, and both Cusack and Tucci provide welcome comic relief.

"Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" is rated G, though it features some child-in-peril elements, some brief violent bits (mostly vehicular mayhem and some slapstick) and a few derogatory slurs. Running time: 100 minutes.


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