Toronto Star

Horse (and girl) power

- DAPHNE GORDON TORONTO STAR

Flicka

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

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