I tend to compare all horse movies to “The Man from Snowy River.” That 1982 Australian film offers not only beautiful horses but also breathtaking scenery, a solid coming-of-age story, an engaging familial conflict, and outstanding performances by Tom Burlinson, Sigrid Thornton and Kirk Douglas.
So “Flicka,” which opens nationwide today, has a lot to live up to in my mind–and it doesn’t. Then again, this movie based on the 1941 Mary O’Hara novel seems poised mainly to promote its country soundtrack featuring Tim McGraw, who stars in the movie.
The Flicka story has been adapted before; in 1943 Roddy McDowall starred as the boy Ken in “My Friend Flicka.” Now, it’s 27-year-old Alison Lohman playing 16-year-old Katy McLaughlin. She’s the only daughter of Wyoming rancher Rob McLaughlin (McGraw), and she’s as independent and restless as the wild horse she finds and dubs Flicka.
Rancher Rob runs a tight ship, and he won’t stand for wild horses or daughters. He wants to get rid of Flicka and put Katy on the right path–specifically, a passing year-end grade at private school.
Thrown into the mix are a brother (Ryan Kwanten) who wants to leave the ranch and go to college, and a mother (Maria Bello) caught emotionally between father and daughter.
“Flicka” is supposed to be an ode to the West and the idea of freedom as embodied by wild horses and bountiful, beautiful country. But a disjointed, arrhythmic script makes this a tough sell.
While it’s a clean movie in terms of content (earning a PG rating), it never hits a stride handsome as that of its mustang. Several scenes ooze melodrama, multiple voice-overs by Katy seem harsh and uneven, and the script by Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner simply fails to engage.
The movie actually improves for a while in a second-half rodeo sequence, but unfortunately it reverts to tidy cliché instead of holding that earthier, more natural tone.
People are more likely to talk about the soundtrack, which includes McGraw’s “My Little Girl.” Co-written with Tom Douglas, it plays over the end credits. Fans will also be interested in Holly Williams’ “Rodeo Road” and the Warren Brothers’ “Where Did I Go Right.”
“Flicka” is family friendly, but it needed a filmmaking approach as daring and bold as that of the spirit it tries to extol.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild language.
Director: Michael Mayer
Writers: Mark Rosenthal & Lawrence Konner (based on the novel by Mary O’Hara)
Cast: Katy: Alison Lohman; Rob: Tim McGraw; Nell: Maria Bello; Howard: Ryan Kwanten; Jack: Danny Pino; Gus: Dallas Roberts.
The movie’s official Web site is here.