Director: Peter Markle
Writers: Valarie Trapp, Peter Markle.
Lindze Letherman...Virginia Lofton
Gabriel Byrne...Ford Lofton
Rachel Skarsten...Caroline Lofton
Kevin Zegers...Darrow Raines
Robert Guy Miranda...Blake Raines
Joanne Whalley...Jessie Eastwood
Jeremy Akerman...Huntington Crane
Lightning strikes in the coastal sky; a horse runs, distraught. In a postcard-picturesque seaside house, a young girl bolts upright in bed, and then runs, guided as if by telepathy to the animal. Her mother died in an accident while riding this horse; the mare dies while giving birth to a foal.
Virginia will name the horse, "Storm."
Beautifully filmed in Nova Scotia, here looking entirely like Nova Scotia, but representing small town New England, Virginia's Run is formula film-making. It is, however, formula done well, a 2002 version of the kind of family film Hollywood used to attempt more often. Young girls forms its principal audience (particularly young girls going through the "I want a horse" phase), but it manages a broader appeal.
That accident took mom about a year before the film's opening scene; dad feels uncomfortable letting Virginia ride a horse, even one that apparently has an affinity only for her. But Virginia wants to ride, to prove herself, and to beat obnoxious Darrow, spoiled son of the local self-important rich guy and her older sister's boyfriend. Ever want to do something which has been forbidden, even though it's not actually bad? Ever have a sibling with a boy/girlfriend whom everyone thought was a jerk except for the misguided sibling?
Ever grieve a serious loss?
That's the sort of thing this film's about, wrapped in a simplified, child-friendly package.
Two years pass; except for the foal, no one seems to age much. Virginia gets a job with horses, helping out the Rains's new trainer, and dad's new love-interest, Jessie. Darrow continues to be a spoiled jerk. The annual endurance race, which Darrow always wins-- cheating, of course, when necessary, mistreating horses, of course, when he feels like it-- is coming up again.
Will Virginia get to ride Stormy? Will she get past the sudden plot developments and make it to the race? Will she win? Will Darrow be exposed for the spoiled fink he is? Well, yeah, but the film provides regularly placed crises that permit us to pretend that the outcome might be in doubt.
The film only develops the central characters. Lindze Letherman does very well as the tomboy protagonist, and should have a future career. Gabriel Byrne is neither all-wise father nor sitcom doofus. He's the family film version of everydad, a regular guy trying hard and making good decisions and coming around when he makes the wrong ones. Rachel Skarsten plays the girly, sexy older sister, Caroline. The girls bond as they grieve their mother's death, conspire to ignite the awkward romance between their father and horse-trainer Jessie, and as Caroline realizes what a jerk she's dating. The girls also work together to overcome unfair obstacles placed in Virginia's way.
The rest of the cast has been very broadly characterized, but they're well-played as types. Of particular note is Jeremy Ackerman as Huntington Crane, Rains's priggish toady. He's been written as a living cartoon, but he does an exemplary job. Kevin Zegers as Darrow has been written a little too over the top in places, but this is only a minor distraction, if we remember the intended audience. The town also features a cast of one-dimensional stock characters, but we can imagine they have some kind of backstory.1 The actors have done passingly well with the material.
Despite fairly convincing grieving over the mother's death, incidental violence, some genuinely reckless behaviour (if Virginia is her mother's daughter, one understands how the fateful accident might have occurred), and the (offstage and unsuccessful) sexual pressuring of Caroline by Darrow, the film ultimately paints a sunny picture. Commercial film delivers wish-fulfilment. In this film, the girls live in a cool seaside house and overcome unjust difficulties. Hard work and determination eventually pay off for the heroes, while Nemesis keeps her appointment with the villains. Older boys rooked into watching a film principally aimed at little girls can scope the babe older sister, ride out the sentimental moments, and settle into swallowing the occasionally far-fetched plot developments and comic turns. Film fans can admire some above-average cinematography. Everyone can take away moderately-explored messages about grieving, family bonding, personal effort, and the various conflicts which attend maturation. The pace lags a bit in the middle, but the final race makes amends.
Virginia's Run took a Crystal Heart Award at the Heatland Film Festival.2 It's a cinch it wasn't going to win any
Oscars or a Palme D'Or, but it works at its own level.
1. In a Maritimes in-joke, the lead actors from Trailer Park Boys make appearances as family-friendly variations of their tv show characters.
2."To recognize and honor filmmakers whose work explores the human journey by artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of life."--Heatland Film Festival Website, http://www.heartlandfilmfest.org/ That statement provides everything you need to know regarding whether you should rent this film now, or avoid it like the plague.