A press release I read recently tells me that I'm supposed to be excited about the young Sammi Hanratty making a star turn in The Greening of Whitney Brown. The young actor is, after all, one of the Disney stable—the vast majority of whom truly do end up becoming megawatt stars. Think Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, or Miley Cyrus. Well, don't think Britney or Miley, perhaps—but you get my drift.
I can, however, see why the publicity machine gets excited about Hanratty. She's energetic, likable, and isn't packaged (yet) with the kind of prepubescent sexpot schtick that's gotten Spears and Cyrus off into the weeds. Here, Hanratty's downhome appeal works both in the context of a high-society prep middle school... and down on the farm.
Director Peter Odiorne keeps the pacing brisk and deftly light as Whitney's world comes crashing down with the economy. She and her parents fall quickly out of Philadelphia's 1% back to whence they came... and specifically, back to the farm where Whitney's dad grew up. There, Whitney must make her way in a new school (with some oddly snooty would-be friends there, too) as Mom and Dad try to whip the old farm into shape and make a new start. Whitney's new BFF (Best Furry Friend) becomes Bob, a horse who seems to have an odd free rein in the county. Mom and Dad get some help from... well, you'll probably guess who.
The central conflict is one that's pretty relevant to any kid (or adult who remembers such things) who's been ripped out of one school and moved into another. Will Whitney's friends remember her? Heck, will they even like her anymore? Further, were they even really her friends in the first place? In terms of this storyline, the film hits all the requisite points, and in a poignant enough fashion. Tears never really get jerked (because we know this is going to have a happy ending, and because Hanratty is just so darned cute!) but the tension is milked well enough anyway.
Oddly enough, the film works even better as an animal-buddy movie. Hanratty and Bob actually have a great comedic chemistry, and this storyline yields its fair share of laughs. The climactic sequence as Whitney races to make her ex-school's fall social back in the Big City is quite enjoyable.
The film kind of clunks with the adult storylines, however. Aidan Quinn, Brooke Shields, and Kris Kristofferson are fine enough in their supporting roles; but the script never quite makes the family's financial or emotional disasters credible enough to care much about anything other than Whitney, Bob, and the dance.
But it's enough. This is light family fare, and will make for a fine fall outing for you and your kids. It's beautifully shot and has some good things to say about friendship and loyalty... though I think Whitney could have been a bit more merciful when the film's villain gets her comeuppance.
The Greening of Whitney Brown is rated PG for "brief mild language." Very brief, very mild. Pretty darn tame stuff.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional DVD of The Greening of Whitney Brown.