October 26, 2006

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Flicka (PG)
A wild mustang teaches a girl about following her dreams and about the calming powers of lullabies on angry horses in Flicka, a movie based on the book My Friend Flicka.

Wyoming sure looks purty. Iím not saying that the stateís tourism board paid for the loving shots of its breath-taking mountains, sun dappled meadows and wide-open skies but it wouldnít have been such a bad idea. I donít know that the thought ďIíd like to visit WyomingĒ has ever before crossed my mind but I know it did several times while watching Flicka. Except Iím not much of a horse person so perhaps Iíd be traveling those grassy vistas in an off-road vehicle of some kind.

Katy (Alison Lohman) feels the same way, not just about Wyoming but about her familyís sprawling 5,000-acre horse ranch. She wants no part of the book-learniní over at the fancy boarding school her parents have sent her to in hopes sheíll go to college. She wants to be back on the farm, roping and riding and just generally cowboying. Her dad Rob McLaughlin (Tim McGraw) and her mom Nell McLaughlin (Maria Bello) donít necessarily see a life on the land for their daughter. Rob expects his son Howard (Ryan Kwanten) to take over the farm. Howard, however, is disinterested in the country life and wants to head to Boston to school.

Katy returns home from school with a failing grade in history and a serious case of the pissed-offs. Relaxing from lifeís frustrations, she decides to take one of the horses out for a ride. Along the way sheís almost killed by a mountain lion but saved at the last moment by a black mustang. Being a romantic about The West, Katy has a thing for mustangs and instantly becomes obsessed with finding and training the animal. Her father sees mustangs as pests. When he finds the mustang, he puts her in a pen, which the animal frantically sprints around. Katy, defying her fatherís orders, sneaks out at night to sing some song about little ponies to the horse, which she names Flicka, and slowly convinces the horse to let her ride him. Meanwhile, her father decides to sell the horse to a rodeo manager who uses wild mustangs in one of his contests. Whatís a girl to do? Why, ride the horse and collect the prize money so she can buy Flicka back, of course.

Apparently this Flicka book is one of those seminal experiences in oneís childhood reading. My main Flicka point of reference is a throwaway line on a season three episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Based on the horsies-are-pretty and your-dad-isnít-always-right themes of the movie, Iíd say you donít have to have read the book to enjoy the movie as a 9- to 14-year-old girl. The movie preaches a fairly tidy message of strong-girl-ness along with the independence and vague anti-intellectualism (Iím pretty sure you can like Wyoming and history) making it not too bad a means of fighting back the forces of the Bratz and tween-oriented beauty magazines. Lohmanís performance is about two ticks louder on the woe-is-me-and-my-horse meter than it needs to be but she does manage to make most of her more emotional scenes seem more about genuine feeling than teenage petulance. McGraw serves only to be disapproving until he isnít but life on the farm has never looked as glamorous as it does when worn by Maria Bello. For skin that nice, Iíd consider a move to the North Country, or at the very least, Francestown.

Where it really soars, however, as is a commercial for Wyoming. I wonder, do they have Starbucks next to the Quality Inns in Godís country? C+

The movie is rated PG for some mild cowboy language. Directed by Michael Mayer and written by Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner (based on My Friend Flicka by Mary OíHara),Flicka is distributed by 20th Century Fox in wide release and runs 94 minutes.

ó Amy Diaz