The economic downturn proves a blessing in disguise for a spoiled urban tween in”The Greening of Whitney Brown,” the tale of a girl and the horse that loved her. When Whitney’s father loses his high-paying job in the city, the family relocates to an abandoned farm in the country. Written by Gail Gilchriest, who adapted “My Dog Skip” to the screen, and directed by newcomer Peter Odiorne, this simplistic story of bucolic redemption has few pretensions to depth, ambiguity or realism, relying on its name cast, sprightly lead and a helluva horse to attract family auds on its Nov. 11 bow.
Whitney (Sammi Hanratty) reigns at an exclusive Philadelphia school, as evidenced by her landslide election as class president and her snagging the dreamy new kid in town (Slade Pearce) as her prom date. Her sudden move to the boondocks with no cell-phone reception cuts her off from her adoring public, except through sporadic pay-phone calls to a double-dealing BFF (Charlotte K. Matthews).
As in countless Hollywood kidpics, the city girl finds new meaning by working with a horse, though here no racing glory is involved, since the equine in question, Bob, is a black-and-white Gypsy Vanner and thus small, adorable and more attuned to humans than Lassie. Bob is always up for rural transportation, assorted tricks, approving nudges, disapproving snorts and dramatic, revenge-dealing appearances at formal occasions.
With no friends her own age, Whitney is free to bond more closely with Mom (Brooke Shields), who turns out to be eminently suitable to the homesteader lifestyle, breathing deeply of the fresh air, contentedly perambulating in the picturesque fields and whipping up batches of blackberry preserve to sell by the roadside for profit. Dad (Aidan Quinn), dealing with childhood demons, proves more recalcitrant: Not until Whitney helps him reconcile with his crusty estranged father (Kris Kristofferson) can he finally reconnect with his inner-farmboy.
Thesping is predictably pro, Kristofferson bringing a rangy authenticity to the proceedings, his taciturn self-reliance contrasting with Quinn’s introverted vulnerability. Hanratty’s unquenchable perkiness, though well integrated into her can-do persona, grows wearisome at times.
Helmer Odiorne creates a suitably groomed pastoral setting for Gilchriest’s relentlessly upbeat script, but does little to suggest a context larger than Whitney’s limited p.o.v.