If you’re the parent of a preteen girl, you already may be resisting constant entreaties to drive her to a showing of “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl,” the first feature film based on Mattel’s popular line of American Girl dolls. Take heart: It’s a sugary drama but not without grit. And a grain or two might cause even your grown-up eyes to moisten.

The heroine is 9-year-old Kit (Abigail Breslin of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Nim’s Island”), an aspiring reporter who dreams of writing for her hometown newspaper, the Cincinnati Register. Her story begins in 1934, as shock waves from the Great Depression rock her cozy, middle-class neighborhood. When Dad (Chris O’Donnell) leaves town to find work, Mom (Julia Ormond) pays the mortgage by taking in boarders, including a wacky mobile librarian (Joan Cusack) and a traveling magician (Stanley Tucci, dry and wry as ever).

The plot revolves around two heart-of-gold hoboes (one played by young Max Thieriot, all scruffy and soooo dreamy). But when evidence implicates them in a robbery spree, our Kit, the plucky journalist, must find the truth.

The American Girl dolls, created by a former schoolteacher, all “live” during pivotal eras in history, but Kit’s milieu couldn’t be more timely. As the Kittredges and other respectable families suddenly face foreclosure and financial ruin, director Patricia Rozema (“Mansfield Park”) and screenwriter Ann Peacock treat them with dignity and sensitivity. At times, this period movie feels ripped from today’s headlines.

The overall glow remains golden, of course. But with a dash of realism and more than a little intelligence.


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