2006, Movie, PG, 94 mins


It may take a moment for fans of Mary O'Hara's enduring children's classic My Friend Flicka, first filmed in 1943 with a young Roddy McDowall, to adjust to director Michael Mayer's (A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD) update, particularly the transformation of rancher's lad Ken McLaughlin into Katy. But the heart of O'Hara's tale, in which a struggling family must adjust to a changing world, shines through the surface alterations. When driven, determined, 16-year-old Katy (Alison Lohman) is away at boarding school, she daydreams about her family ranch, and on her first day of summer vacation she eagerly awakens before dawn to go riding. But while she's worrying about how to tell her stern father, Rob (Tim McGraw), about her less-than-stellar grades, she runs afoul of a mountain lion and only the intervention of a beautiful mustang saves her from injury or death. Rob and his peace-keeping wife, Nell (Maria Bello), are understandably upset by her story and find it hard to believe a lone mustang is living on their spread. Once they learn about her grades — which are low enough that she may need to repeat the year — Katy is sentenced to chores and forbidden to go riding or looking for some phantom mare. Spirited teenager that she is, she disobeys and tries to capture the handsome beast. She gets dragged through the dirt, but Rob eventually ropes the horse and brings her back home. Katy dubs her Flicka, a term of endearment she learned from a farmhand; it means "beautiful young girl" in Swedish. Katy takes to spending her nights in the horse's pen trying to train her, but Flicka's wild streak runs deep, and when Rob discovers what she's been doing, he sells the horse to a rodeo. Only Katy's brother, Howard (Ryan Kwanten), who's being groomed to take over the ranch and wants nothing more than to get away, understands her attachment to Flicka. He sees that his sister has much in common with the trapped mustang, and agrees to help Katy enter a dangerous rodeo contest — if she wins, she'll have the money to buy Flicka back. The film is bookended by voice-overs done in the style of nature documentaries, which doesn't jive with its overall tone, and Mayer's visual style gives the breathtaking landscapes a disconcertingly bleak edge. But it's the volatile yet loving relationship between a stubborn dad and a headstrong daughter, set against the backdrop of the struggling ranching community, that drives the story. Mayer knows how to tug at the heartstrings, and his admirably restrained cast keeps the family drama from becoming too sugary. leave a comment --Angel Cohn

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