Flicka (20th Century Fox, PG)

Wait…oh my goodness. It's as if Katy and Flicka are one and the same!


film_flickaChildren's book authors love stories about kids and the animals they befriend. What's a childhood without Lassie or Old Yeller? How could we grow up without learning from a wise bear like Baloo or whiling away the hours with a fawn like The Yearling? And really, what could be more touching than a story about a young girl and her horse? Well, lots of things, but as you watch Flicka, that hardly matters.

Sixteen-year-old Katy (Alison Lohman) loves horses. She loves Wyoming and her family's ranch in the Cowboy State. Katy also loves to daydream, so much so that she jeopardizes her tony private school education after getting lost in reverie about the animals she cares for. Katy soon finds a wild mustang wandering on the outskirts of the ranch and becomes determined to train the horse. Her father Rob (Tim McGraw) insists they sell the animal Katy calls Flicka, and forbids her from going near the seemingly untamable equine.

You can see where this is going, right? Katy is too headstrong and independent to abandon Flicka just because her dad says so. Flicka needs a little discipline, a task to sink her horsy teeth into and someone to understand her, so Katy's going to be there. Wait…oh my goodness. It's as if Katy and Flicka are one and the same!

Rob and Katy's mom Nell (Maria Bello) have spent a significant portion of their meager earnings to provide Katy with that top-notch education she crapped on at the end of the school year. A film like this would be nothing if no one near our heroine understood her fighting spirit, and Nell fits the bill. She thinks training Flicka would be a good way to instill some responsibility in Katy. Stubborn Rob, fearing for Katy's safety, simply won't have it, though. Surprise, surprise; it looks as though Katy came by her obstinate ways naturally.

Alright, it might not be a revolutionary method of storytelling, but for a film based on a novel published in 1941, Flicka has been nicely updated for this adaptation.

While set in the present day, the filmmakers made a wise choice in playing up the fact that the family's ranch steeps them in an increasingly old-fashioned way of life. Katy or her brother Howard (Ryan Kwanten) would have to give up their dreams of the world away from Wyoming if the ranch is to stay in the family. Only one of them is up for the job, and it's not who Rob and Nell thought it would be.

The performances add to the push and pull of modern vs. outdated ways to live and make a living. Lohman has the perfect type of face for this part. Aside from looking believably sweet 16, nothing about her appearance telegraphs any particular time period or economic status. All we see are Katy's pluck, determination, and love of the land.

McGraw and Bello work well off each other as the family's parental units, though neither of them appears hardscrabble enough to have dealt with several years as ranchers. Stepping again into the "disapproving patriarch" role, McGraw continues to showcase solid acting chops (but without the booze and beatings of Friday Night Lights). He also seems, fittingly, as though he stepped out of an old western. Bello, meanwhile, is wonderful (as always) even though this certainly isn't her most substantial character. I get the feeling this is her "my kids should be able to watch me in something" part. As long as actors like Bello put the same passion into those roles, we can't begrudge them that.

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