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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Teenage girls have loved horses as long as there have been teenage girls. Or horses, for that matter. The two just seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. So it kind of makes sense that the lead character in the new version of Flicka has been switched from a boy to a girl.

Alison Lohman (Matchstick Men) plays that girl, named Katy McLaughlin. Her father Rob (Tim McGraw) is a stern rancher who isn’t afraid to lay down the law. Her mother Nell (Maria Bello) is softer and more nurturing. Rob works tirelessly to earn enough money so that Katy can attend a private boarding school and eventually go to college. The irony is that she’d rather run the ranch someday; it’s her brother Howard (Ryan Kwanten) who wants to go to college, but he’s being prepped to take over when Rob retires.

Coming home for the summer, Katy goes out into the woods and encounters a mountain lion. She is saved from being attacked by a wild black stallion who comes to her aid and scares off the creature. Katy returns later to rope the horse, which she dubs Flicka. Her father is not happy that she brings this stallion home. He forbids her to go near it. Rebel that she is, Katy sneaks out in the middle of the night to secretly break the horse. Amazingly, she has a calming effect on it. When Rob finds out about their late-night sessions, he sells Flicka to a rodeo. Katy then devises a plan to enter the rodeo’s wild horse race and win her beloved stallion back.

Flicka is pure old-fashioned entertainment. You could put this movie in a time machine and zap it back to 1943, when the original film version of Mary O’Hara’s book “My Friend Flicka” came out, and it would seem perfectly at home. There’s no violence, sex, or swearing. There’s a nice moral at the end. Even the tone feels old-fashioned; the occasional melodramatics and heavy-handed metaphors hearken back to movies of a different era.

Some people may be turned off by this approach, but I kind of liked it. One of the gripes I occasionally have with today’s family films is that they’ve become too hip for the room. There’s a prevailing wisdom in Hollywood that says modern young audiences need a steady stream of pop culture references and in-jokes to be entertained. Unfortunately, that sometimes occurs to the detriment of story-telling. By adhering to a more traditional form, Flicka manages to tell a compelling story in a way that pulls you in. It doesn’t need those hipper-than-thou elements to work because it has the quiet confidence of a tale well told.

Alison Lohman is very good as the teenage Katy. (In reality, the actress is 27, but she credibly passes for an adolescent.) Of course, the theme of the story is that Katy is just like Flicka - both are wild, rebellious creatures who don’t hesitate to fight for what they want. Corny? Maybe a little, although I bought it thanks to Lohman’s sincerity. Tim McGraw represents spot-on casting as the rancher dad, and Maria Bello – queen of edgy indie cinema – nicely segues into a very different kind of role as a protective Southern mom.

Best of all are the horses. I happen to live in an area where there are a lot of them around. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see at least one. They are majestic creatures – as graceful as they are beautiful. Flicka has lots of scenes showing them doing their thing. I can’t deny that it worked for me. This is a genuinely nice movie that wears its old-fashioned values proudly, and I had a good time watching it. Flicka is for the teenage girl in all of us.

( out of four)

Flicka is rated PG for some mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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