Review: Flicka

Katy McLaughlin (Alison Lohman, "Matchstick Men") is a teenage girl coming off a horrible year at her private school. Returning to her Wyoming mountaintop ranch home for the summer, Katy looks forward to interacting with her beloved horses, but her stubborn father (Tim McGraw) is hoping to enforce some discipline on his daydreaming daughter. One afternoon, Katy comes across a wild Mustang she names Flicka. Much to the annoyance of her father, Katy finds her soulmate in this undomesticated creature, leading to trouble when both refuse to be tamed by outside forces.

Mary O'Hara's original 1941 novel was titled "My Friend Flicka." This latest Hollywood adaptation has been harshly shortened to just "Flicka" (IMDb listing). Why? Because there's nothing friendly about this joyless and repellently melodramatic family film.

"Flicka" has endured an almost "Lassie" style of existence, finding life in the literary, cinematic, and television mediums. It's a tale that appeals to the primal urges of young people; that ability to find solace with a creature that understands and trusts only them. The franchise has lasted throughout the decades because it understood how to pitch its tale of love directly at the right audience.

The new "Flicka" reimagining doesn't scrap O'Hara's story (besides switching the sex of the lead role), but it does manage to suck the life right out of it. This is a curiously negative film, with every single character in some state of anger or denial, which casts a suffocating black cloud over the whole motion picture. This is a picture about horses for heaven's sake, but the screenwriters find themselves going back to familial angst every chance they get, finding it far more rewarding to watch a group of people constantly fight than to assemble a proper relationship between Flicka and Katy. In fact, the title character merely cameos throughout the first two acts of the film. Now what sense does that make?

Casting is a big thorn in this movie's side. Odd is the very appearance of Lohman, who is a full decade older in real life than her character, and it shows. The actress works overtime to convey the feistiness of teendom, but instead overshoots her goal and gets lost somewhere under her too on-the-nose "Sheena" mane of hair. Worse is country singer Tim McGraw, held hostage in a Billy Bob Thornton fake bake and small-town-bangs toupee, unable to make his parental figure anything more than the complete wet blanket director Michael Mayer prefers him to be. "Flicka" paints its characters black and white to better pander to the mass audience, but McGraw is one step away from eating babies the way Mayer depicts him.

"My Friend Flicka" has lasted a long time in American culture, and it continues to charm readers of any age. The story will survive this adaptation, but I hope this misguided film sends a message to future productions: keep the blues to minimum, and put the focus on the horse. Nobody is paying the see a family bitch at each other for 100 minutes.

Filmfodder Grade: D

i love flicka!! it is a GREAT MOVIE!! i love horses too!!

-- Posted by: kendall at April 23, 2007 8:32 PM