Judge Gordon Sullivan rides side saddle.
Sometimes you win. Sometimes you learn.
2013 might be remembered as the year that finally showed Hollywood that stories centered around women and girls could bring everybody to the cinema. The kids were captured by Frozen, the teens by The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and adults could see meaty roles for women in films like American Hustle and August: Osage County. It's a bit like being spoiled for choice, but it wasn't always that way. For much of my childhood, female characters were absent or relegated to side-kick roles. Unless, of course, the film dealt with horses, in which case a young woman almost always had the starring role. Though bigger, more popular films might usurp much of the audience for films of this kind, Cowgirls 'n Angels 2: Dakota's Summer shows there's still room for coming-of-age narratives for young girls (especially if there's a horse involved).
Dakota (Haley Ramm, X-Men: The Last Stand) is a 17 year old girl who discovers she's adopted. This sends her off on a journey to the trick-riding circuit, where she's taken in by master rider Austin Rose (Keith Carradine, Nashville) who teaches her about life and horses.
It would be overly-generous to call Cowgirls 'n Angels 2 a sequel. Sure, it comes after the first Cowgirls 'n Angels film, but it's much, much closer to a remake than a true sequel. Though writer-director Timothy Armstrong returns for Dakota's Summer, the rest of the cast has been jettisoned. Instead, we get a new young woman needing lessons in trick riding and life, and there's a new old-hand trick-riding expert this time out, one who can show young Dakota what she needs to learn in and out of the rodeo ring. But it's really a remake because in addition to the all-new cast, we've got basically the same story, right down to a young girl finding out she's adopted and dealing with the consequences.
I'm not against the idea of the remake/sequel like this. However, fans of the first film might have bit of trouble with this one. The first film featured a pretty young heroine, 12 years old or so. As a film aimed at a young adolescent demographic, it makes sense to have her learn trick riding and be worried about her birth parents. In the sequel though, Dakota is explicitly 17, right on the cusp of adulthood. This puts her a bit out of touch with the 10-14 year old demographic of the first film, and the fuzzy, feel-good nature of the film will likely put it outside the bounds of most 17 year olds' interest. In this way, I'm just not sure who Cowgirls 'n Angels 2 is made for—its original fans have probably outgrown this kind of film, and it's unlikely to attract new fans with its older protagonist.
Of course the film is intended as feel-good and uplifting. To achieve that goal, characterization and plausibility are sacrificed. Those not willing to go along with the typical generic habits of the young-girl-with-a-horse coming of age drama will find nothing here to make the formula more accessible.
Though I'm ultimately unsure for whom Cowgirls 'n Angels is intended, it's a fine enough take on the horse genre. Keith Carradine makes an excellent trainer, dispensing his wisdom with the look of someone who's had to struggle for his own wisdom. It's also nice to see Emily Bett Richards taking a brief break from Arrow. Hayley Ramm does a fine job navigating her coming-of-age story. She's believable as a confused young woman without ever devolving into whining, and her "finding herself" moments are convincing as well.
The film also gets a decent Blu-ray release. The 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is fine. Detail is pretty strong, and colors are well-saturated. The sweeping outdoor shots look especially good except for a few nagging contrast issues. There are no significant compression artifacts or digital problems. The DTS-HD 5.1 track features clean and clear dialogue from the front, with good dynamic range from the film's score. Directionality comes out in some of the trick-riding scenes, and overall this is a fine track.
Bonus features start with a 13 minute EPK-style making-of featurette. It's not a lot, but it's fine for the demographic of young viewers. The only other supplement is an Ultraviolet digital copy of the film.
Cowgirls 'n Angels 2: Dakota's Summer is as generic as it gets. All the usual girl-with-a-horse coming of age boxes are checked. The fact that Dakota is a bit older than the usual protagonist of this kind of film might make it a hard sell for some viewers, but for those looking for girl-on-a-horse films, you could do much worse.
Generic but not guilty.
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