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A headstrong teenage girl. An untamed wild mustang. And a stubborn-but-loving father. Mix them together and you get Flicka, the latest adaptation of Mary O'Hara's beloved children's story My Friend Flicka.
Nothing thrills Katy McLaughlin more than galloping across Wyoming's mountain meadows on horseback. Boarding school, which she's flunking out of as she daydreams about riding back home, certainly can't compete. Despite her parents' desire for her to prepare for college, the only thing Katy truly wants is to help her dad run Goose Creek Ranch Quarter Horses. And to ride, of course.
And ride she does, sneaking out for a midnight jaunt the first night she's home. It proves a fateful choice, as she encounters a fierce mustang mare that captures her heart. Despite her father's disapproval—he describes wild mustangs as "four-legged parasites"—the newly named Flicka winds up at the McLaughlin ranch.
Much to her consternation, though, Katy is forbidden to touch Flicka. Her father's prescription for her summer: writing an essay she failed to complete at school. Dad's word is law on the ranch, but Katy will have none of it. Each night she sneaks out to Flicka's corral to train her, flagrantly flouting her father's will.
When Dad finally learns the truth about Katy's nighttime ventures, he wastes no time selling Flicka.
Katy's hopes seem cruelly dashed until she learns of an opportunity to race Flicka against other wild horses in an upcoming rodeo—and perhaps win her back.
Though the McLaughlins are not without some notable character flaws (some of them I'll detail in "Other Negative Elements"), they love each other deeply. Rob McLaughlin is a no-nonsense, old-school style father and husband who asks for and expects absolute respect and obedience from his family. "Yes, sir" is the only appropriate response. His instruction to his strong-willed daughter? "Live under my roof, live under my rules." When she willfully disobeys, Dad tries to stand his ground and tells her mother, "I'm not going to reward her bad behavior."
But beneath his sometimes harsh responses beats the heart of a father who wants the best for his daughter. He longs for Katy to discipline the volatile passions that he believes may undermine her future. At his side is his wife, Nell, a wise woman who tries to mediate between him and their two children who don't always understand. Given the financial pressure the ranch is under, it's also clear that the couple is making a significant sacrifice to send their daughter to boarding school.
Siblings Howard and Katy share a kindred spirit, confiding secrets and doing their best to help one another whenever possible. They are allies, and each tries to help the other deal with a father whose ideas for their future are at odds with their own.
[Spoiler Warning] In a tear-jerking scene near the film's conclusion, Dad realizes his stubborn resistance to his daughter's desire to train Flicka wasn't the right thing. As she lays unconscious with a high fever, he tells her, "The day you were born, they gave you to me. I thought my hands were too rough to hold you. You cried so much. I made all kinds of promises to you if you'd just go to sleep. But I forgot to keep those promises. I'm sorry. If you'll forgive me, I'll tell you every day how proud of you I am." In the end, Dad sees that just because he's made up his mind about what his children should grow up to be, doesn't mean it's actually in their best interests. So he gradually learns to accept them for who they really are.
When Katy asks her brother why he took movie posters down in his bedroom, he replies jokingly, "I'm moving into my Zen phase."
Howard and his girlfriend, Miranda, share a deep kiss. While swimming, Miranda wears a bikini; Katy's swimming-hole attire consists of shorts and tank top. This scene and another call attention to Howard's bare chest. At other times Katy is shown in shoulder- and cleavage-revealing tops; Mom is briefly seen in a nightie. Sneaking a peek at Katy taking a bath, the camera glimpses her bare shoulder and, as she turns, a bit of the side of her breast. Jack says that his aftershave lets women know he's sensitive and a sexy beast. (Katy tells him he stinks.)
At a rodeo dance, Rob and Nell McLaughlin touch each other playfully and affectionately; that contact (and a few teasing comments exchanged at other times) is depicted as a healthy expression of their intimacy.
A mountain lion pounces upon Flicka from an overhanging tree limb, knocking the horse to the ground. (Katy has already been thrown off.) Katy then scares off the big cat by throwing rocks at it. Flicka is obviously wounded badly, but her cuts are hard to see clearly because it's dark outside. Several other shots also depict Katy being thrown from Flicka and other horses. Similarly, about a dozen rodeo cowboys get ejected from their precarious perches atop angry bulls and broncos. During Flicka's early training, the wild mustang kicks Katy in the back and knocks her down.
Crude or Profane Language
A handful of mild profanities pepper Flicka's script. Characters utter "oh god" a half-dozen times and "oh my lord" once. We hear one use each of "h---" and "a--," and two instances of "d--n." Milder interjections include "dang," "heck" and "freaking."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Katy's willful disobedience of her father is the film's central conflict. And it treats Katy's desire to work with Flicka as a justifiable reason for her rebellious behavior. She never really submits to her dad's directives. Along the way, Mom and Howard discover what she's doing, and in their own way enable and protect her.
Instead of disciplining his daughter when he discovers what she's done, Dad sells Flicka—a particularly harsh response. That painful scene includes both Katy and Howard hitting their father, and Mom telling Dad that he's made a mistake by not consulting her in this knee-jerk decision. Dad eventually takes responsibility for the way he made that decision, but Katy and Howard aren't similarly held accountable.
Flicka is about two relationships: A girl and her horse, and a girl and her dad. Just as Flicka's restless spirit resists domestication, so Katy resists her father's discipline at virtually every turn.
We, of course, are supposed to sympathize with Katy's plight. After all, what kind of curmudgeon would deny a passionate young woman the relationship with her horse she so deeply desires? We know that she's violating the letter of her father's law. But the film invites us to give her a pass for this "understandable" transgression of the heart, just as every character in the film does—even her father, eventually. In the process, the film poses the significant question of whether it's worth sacrificing relationship for the sake of rules, however well-intended those rules might be. Ultimately, Flicka answers that question with a resounding no.
Still, Katy's stubborn rebelliousness is a real—if navigable—issue that families who see this engaging story will want to talk about. When parents' desires and instructions are at odds with their children's, what does it look like to work through that process constructively? Flicka's depiction of the process is at best imperfect and highly romanticized.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Alison Lohman as Katy McLaughlin; Tim McGraw as Rob McLaughlin; Maria Bello as Nell McLaughlin; Ryan Kwanten as Howard McLaughlin; Kaylee DeFer as Miranda
Michael Mayer ( )
20th Century Fox