Horse (and girl) power

Toronto Star - - Opening Today - DAPHNE GOR­DON TORONTO STAR


(out of 4) Star­ring Alison Lohman, Tim McGraw, Maria Bello and Ryan Kwan­ten. Di­rected by Michael Mayer. Based on the novel My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara. 94 min­utes. At ma­jor the­atres. G. Flicka has all the el­e­ments of a hit film for teens.

For starters, there’s a healthy dose of in­no­cent ro­mance, since there is ar­guably noth­ing more ro­man­tic than the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a young girl and her horse.

In this case, it un­folds be­tween Katy McLaugh­lin, a 16-year-old rebel who is flunk­ing out of school, and Flicka, a wild horse with ques­tion­able blood­lines and a tal­ent for buck­ing. Though Flicka is a mare rather than a studly stal­lion, it’s no mat­ter to the ro­mance. Katy wants to be with Flicka and noth­ing will stop her.

There’s dra­matic ten­sion, too, as Katy must fight for her horse’s life against the wishes of her fa­ther. An old-school quar­ter-horse rancher with hopes of pass­ing his farm onto his son Howard, Rob McLaugh­lin thinks Katy’s fu­ture lies in academia and for­bids her to date — I mean ride — Flicka. It’s all very Romeo and Juliet.

Then, there are hot guys with big ... belt buckles. As Katy’s buff older brother Howard, Ryan Kwan­ten is to­tally crush­wor­thy, and as Rob the rancher, coun­try singer Tim McGraw will evoke dreamy sighs from the moms in the theatre. Here, hand­some is an un­der­state­ment. The guy can ride and looks fine in his Wran­glers, too.

With McGraw as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, the sound­track hits the right note ev­ery time, fea­tur­ing cool girl rock­ers like Chan­tal Kre­vi­azuk, Gemma Hayes and Natasha Bed­ing­field do­ing a lit­tle bit coun­try, a lit­tle bit rock ’n’ roll, and McGraw croon­ing the clos­ing theme, a nos­tal­gic tune called “My Lit­tle Girl.”

The story is a retelling of Mary O’Hara’s clas­sic chil­dren’s novel My Friend Flicka, which­waspub­lishedin1941and first adapted for the screen in 1943. But Flicka touches on themes that are rel­e­vant to mod­ern au­di­ences.

The orig­i­nal story fo­cused on a boy and his horse; in the 2006 ver­sion, Kenny be­comes Katy. In­stead of wit­ness­ing a 1950s-style strug­gle be­tween a sen­si­tive boy and his con­trol­ling fa­ther, we see a more mod­ern strug­gle be­tween a girl and her over­pro­tec­tive fa­ther.

For peo­ple who love horses, the story will res­onate. But Flicka is not with­out con­tro­versy among an­i­mal ac­tivists. Some have vowed on­line to boy­cott the film be­cause two horses died dur­ing the movie’s pro­duc­tion, al­though the Amer­i­can Hu­mane As­so­ci­a­tion was on set to mon­i­tor how an­i­mals were treated and ruled the deaths “un­pre­ventable ac­ci­dents.”

But the film is just as much about fam­ily as it is about the spe­cial bond be­tween hu­man and horse.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Rob and his beau­ti­ful wife Nell, played by Maria Bello, is in­ter­est­ing. Though the farm is clearly his manly do­main, in the back­ground Nell plays his heart­strings with vir­tu­os­ity, de­fend­ing her daugh­ter’s right to be­come her own per­son while al­low­ing her ma­cho hus­band to main­tain the il­lu­sion that he’s in charge.

It’s sat­is­fy­ing to see the whole fam­ily come to­gether in the time of cri­sis, though there are some flaws in the script that make the drama seem over­wrought and ma­nip­u­la­tive.

But Alison Lohman, the 27-year-old ac­tress who plays Katy, makes the whole thing worth watch­ing. She’s in al­most ev­ery scene and proves she’s ca­pa­ble of con­vey­ing a wide range of emo­tions with a raw lack of self-con­scious­ness that brings to mind Lind­say Lo­han (no re­la­tions0, back when she was an ac­tress and not a celebrity.

Ali­son Lohman, 27, plays teen girl in Flicka, but still man­ages to take movie­go­ers on a con­vinc­ing ride.

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