Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
"...an enjoyable, feel-good western."
Watch this flick (sorry, couldn’t resist) with the expectation of a good, gritty, girl-and-her-horse movie, and you won’t be disappointed. Forget it was based on the best-selling 1941 novel My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara. The creative license taken in changing Ken McLaughlin to Katy McLaughlin might be too much for fans of the book, or even for those expecting a re-make of the 50's movie starring Roddy McDowell.
Sixteen-year-old Katy McLaughlin (Alison Lohman) is all you’d expect of a Wyoming rancher’s daughter. She’s feisty, head-strong, and opinionated. More like her father (Country music’s Tim McGraw) than either of them realizes. While out riding one morning, Katy finds a young mustang and instantly bonds with the creature. Determined to catch and tame the horse, she’s even willing to risk her father’s wrath and do it behind his back if that’s what it takes. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned. Dad finds out, is less than thrilled, and sells Flicka in front of a begging, pleading Katy. How far will Katy go to get Flicka back?
Katy herself is like a wild mustang, which is why, perhaps, she connects so deeply with Flicka. “We’re the same,” Katy says at one point in the movie. They’re both loners who don’t fit in, they both buck authority, and Katy’s father doesn’t know what to do with either of them. As Katy writes in her school essay (a summer assignment to keep her from flunking) about the early settlers and their dealings with mustangs, “They couldn’t domesticate them, so they destroyed them . . . no one really wants them. Not ranchers, not city people. Let them disappear once and for all, along with all the other misfits and loners and relics of a wilderness no one cares about anymore.” The words hit home as we realize they apply not only to Flicka, but to Katy, too. A poignant reminder to go the extra mile and understand those who are different or don’t fit the mold in our lives, rather than dismiss them.
Lohman (who’s 27 in real life) delivers a solid performance playing a character over a decade her junior, though a few times the acting seemed a bit stilted, like she was trying too hard. Her Hollywood hair styles also felt out of place on a working horse ranch, but besides those tiny distractions, the authenticity of the character, and the ranch, was totally there. Tim McGraw played stern Rob McLaughlin as well as any professional actor, and Maria Bello’s supporting role as Katy’s mom brought some kinder (and funnier) moments to the film.
Family friendly through and through (the PG rating is for some mild language), it was refreshing to watch the affectionate brother-sister interaction of Katy and older brother Howard (Ryan Kwanten), her only real confidant on the ranch. I was also pleasantly surprised the film makers didn’t resort to adding the teen romance subplot which seemed to be implied in the trailers. Howard does have a girlfriend, and their relationship seems out of place in the story at first, but everything ties together in the end as the girlfriend plays a role in the climactic scene.
Flicka is an enjoyable, feel-good western. There’s just something about horses—they exude a power and freedom no other creature matches. And there’s also something about the American West with its stark beauty and harsh realities. Flicka showcases them both with beautiful cinematography (several shots of running horses and mountains are breathtaking), painting a realistic picture of the struggles modern-day ranchers face in an age that often forgets them, and the mustangs. Katy’s essay says it best: “...they [mustangs] are the hope for some kind of living memory of what the promise of America used to be ... and could be again.”
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C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.