Literally and figuratively speaking, a horse of a different color


on October 20, 2006 by Bridget Byrne
This adaptation of My Friend Flicka, Mary O'Hara's now classic, tough-love, coming-of-age tale of ranch life in the first half of the 20th century, is updated, re-gendered, tamed -- dare one say gelded -- and the title equine is now black rather than golden. Still, despite numerous weaknesses, some satisfaction must be taken in the effort to produce a movie about a modern-day teenager that is neither a cartoon nor set in a shopping mall. The trials and tribulations of growing up in a swiftly changing environment, where passions and traditions clash with harsh reality, and a desire for freedom raging beyond all boundaries still lie at the core of the story, despite the script's lack of much dramatic intensity.

The task of being a kid in love with a horse and the sense of freedom that horse personifies, this time goes to Alison Lohman, who, playing younger than herself, looks too old for the part and doesn't hit the right notes with either the dreamy or the volatile nature of the character, originally a young boy in O'Hara's tale. As for the star horse -- it simply doesn't get enough screen time and is stuck with too much of the customary rearing and snorting stunt stuff, rather than being allowed to more subtly convey its individual appeal.

The tempestuous relationship the teenager has with her father and her parents' feisty deep-rooted relationship with each other are here cloaked in too much cliche, although Maria Bello's skill and onscreen presence speak volumes about the mother's thoughts and feelings, even when the script leaves her high and dry. As the dad unsure about whether keeping the ranch going is the right thing to do for his family, Tim McGraw is visibly working harder for the complexity that comes to Bello so naturally. The scenery -- much of the film was shot in Los Angeles standing in for Wyoming -- looks like a much better place to be than any shopping mall, and the horses are more beautiful than any trendy trinket a teen might want. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Cast: Alison Lohman, Tim McGraw, Maria Bello and Ryan Kwanten
Director: Michael Mayer
Screenwriters: Mark Rosenthal & Lawrence Konner
Producer: Gil Netter
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG for some mild language
Running time: 94 min.
Release Date: October 20

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