Friday, May 2, 2008

Review: Moondance Alexander (2008) [Review By Kelsey Zukowski]

Starring: Kay Panabaker, Lori Loughlin, Don Johnson, Joe Norman Shaw, Aeden Tomney
Directed By: Michael Damian
Written By: Michael Damian, Janeen Damian
Released: 2008
Grade: C-

Moondance Alexander is a story of an outcast who finds happiness through a horse. The film is very flawed filled with clichés, stereotypes, and so many flat characteristics. It is not terrible, but even in its’ better moments it doesn’t stand out at all against other horse movies. It is the same formula, but with many weaker characters. If you are interested in this type of a movie recent better examples are Flicka and Dreamer. Moondance Alexander ends up just coming off average at best.

Moondance Alexander (Panabaker) is an outcast in her town. She doesn’t even have one friend and she seems to desperately want one. She approaches others and tries to make friends, but is just brutally and embarrassingly shut down. Luckily, it’s summer now though and she’s hoping that she won’t have to see anyone from school. Moondance lives with her mother, Gelsey (Loughlin), who is an art teacher. Her mother soon starts to date one of her art students, Ben (Shaw). This causes some tension between Moondance and her mother, as she is still very much devastated by the death of her father. It makes matters worse when Ben's son, Josh (Tomney) begins coming around a lot, as he is one of the popular guys in school, who Moondance seems to be constantly embarrassing herself in front of.

Moondance finds a way though for her summer to be a little better than her typical life has been. She usually makes deliveries and on one of her deliveries she runs in to something that may change the rest of her life. This thing is a horse that runs in to her, she doesn't see evidence of it belonging to anyone so Moondance takes it home with her. Her mother doesn't let her keep the horse, who Moondance has named Checkers. When they find Checkers' owner, Dante (Johnson) he is returned home. Moondance ends up finding him and after a rough encounter with Dante, she convinces him to let her ride Checkers if she helps out with the work around the stables. After awhile, Moondance begins riding Checkers more and more. She becomes better at riding and Checkers grows a larger fondness for her. Moondance runs in to some of the other girls at school, who constantly put her down. They brag about their horses being pure breeds and therefore superior to her pinto. As they talk about their future wins in the Bow Valley Classic, Moondance is very eager to enter Checkers and herself in this competition. Dante is hesitant at first since he had sworn off teacher, but is in the end convinced to help Moondance. They work to try to prove everyone's doubts and mockery wrong, and to earn some dignity for themselves.

Some of the cast members do better than others, but than to be fair some of the main characters do have a little more to work with than the supporting and minor characters. Kay Panabaker and Lori Loughlin were decent. They do have the family bond that they brought a much higher quality to in the teen drama, Summerland. While it is nice to see them working together again, perhaps they should have waited for better material. There are moments where the dialogue holds them back, but they do succeed in at least showing some depth or realism to their characters. Don Johnson is one of the last actors here who does well. As Dante, he goes from being more secluded and bitter to opening up a bit. While we are revealed his secret that he has been hiding, it isn't given the time that it was built up to have. This secret is revealed by a mere announcer and isn't talked about in any real length. It is not acknowledged by Dante or any other character. This would have given his character the development that he needed to seem authentic. He still is one of the most realistic characters and performers here. James Best also does pretty well one of the towns' shopkeepers who Moondance does deliveries for. He is one of the only energetic and kind people in this film and his acting reflects on this.

Now for the bad, well Olympic ice skater, Sasha Cohen, gave the worst performance as Fiona, one of the conceited and catty popular girls. She should just stick to skating. Between this and The Bratz Movie, it doesn't seem like she is even trying to challenge herself as an actress. Cohen was completely over the top and completely unbelievable. Anytime she was on screen, it drastically took away from the film. There was the opposite problem with Aiden Tomney as Josh. He severely under acted. Now it is obvious that some of this wasn't his fault as his character, although having a fair amount of screen time, wasn't given many lines. Any time we saw him though, he just seemed very flat. So it was very difficult to understand Moondance's fondness for him, there just wasn't anything there. When he starts to show similar feelings for her (even though there still isn't much feeling), it just seems forced.

One major low of Moondance Alexander is the dialogue. Some of the later scenes with Moondance and Dante alone are a bit better. The majority of it though seems like it is just used because those are the type of things that the writer thought would be in a typical horse movie. And consequently, the film isn't anything more than typical. It overall, seems extremely unnatural. The "popular crowd" in particular were horrendous as characters. If they didn't know who Moondance was, like was claimed, they wouldn't be constantly going out of their way to try to make her feel inferior to them. I know girls can be mean, but especially given their age as upper high school students, it seemed like they should have grown up awhile ago. Also, they make horseback riding out to be something that is too cool for Moondance. This seems a bit bizarre, since I wouldn't think of that to be in the top list of "what the cool kids do". I guess I could let this slide though, since it is seems like they are in a more rural area, but using this as a means of humiliation if not involved seems over the top.

With all of the flaws, the film does manage to have positive points. One of these is the relationship between Dante and Moondance. They both are putting their selves on the line and fighting for success. They are both also loners, Dante by choice, Moondance by her seemingly inability to fit in with others. Them being there for each other and supporting one another is strong element of the movie. What ruins this is the film's extreme predictability. Just with the most basic knowledge of the plot, chances are that you already know what's going to happen. There really aren't any surprises and the ending doesn't do anything impressive. It exerts positive messages like: never give up, be yourself, and believe in yourself. Although, they are clear, they aren't well represented. Why should we take anything in this seriously if it isn't even shown in a serious, genuine manner? Moondance Alexander is full of unrealistic dialogue and characters throughout a stereotypical story of a horse and girl, leaving the audience with an okay, but forgettable film.

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