"AN AMERICAN GIRL: MCKENNA SHOOTS FOR THE STARS"
by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: * (out of 5 stars)
Jade Pettyjohn as MCKENNA BROOKS
Kerris Dorsey as JOSIE MYERS
Nia Vardalos as MRS. BROOKS
Ian Ziering as MR. BROOKS
Directed by: Vince Marcello
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Believe it or not, I not only watched another “American Girl” movie, but I actually liked it for what it was. In a twist of fate that I would have never seen coming for much of my life (especially after my wife and I stopped having kids with three boys in tow and zero girls), I have ended up watching four of these “American Girl” movies.
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Probably the strongest of the four I saw was “Kit Kitteridge: An American Girl,” but mostly because it had the full support of a studio, an up-and-coming star and a wide theatrical release. The other one I saw was “Felicity: An American Girl Adventure,” which was basically a made-for-TV movie with future Oscar nominee Shailene Woodley in the leading role. The same went for “Samantha: An American Girl Holiday.”
“An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars” is pretty much the same thing. The theatrical release model has been scrapped due to poor box office performance, and the new wave is TV movies that can directly reach the family audience. The franchise has also jumped studios from Warner Bros. to Universal. These are smart moves, actually, because the niche audience doesn’t need big budgets and a release in 3,000 theaters. They’re smaller, cute girl movies, and they do their job as made-for-TV movies.
This film follows young McKenna, who has dreams of becoming a famous gymnast. She’s close to a major competition, but when she rebuffs her coach’s advice and tries a risky dismount off the balance beam, she injures her leg. McKenna must learn to adjust her life to one with crutches while focusing on her school work. She reluctantly finds a mentor, who is also her tutor, a girl who happens to be in a wheelchair. As McKenna recuperates for her gymnastics meet, she learns about physical challenges and also about friendship and herself.
Yeah, it’s cheesy as all get-out, but it’s not a bad little film for the right audience. I, of course, am not the target niche audience. In fact, when I watched the movie, I publicly said on Twitter that this was most likely the least-manly film to watch all summer.
But it’s not trying to be anything but a girl’s movie. There’s a decent message and a coherent, if not entirely predictable, story. Even the normally annoying Nia Vardalos, who plays McKenna’s mother, doesn’t lay things on too thick.
It’s not perfect, of course. There’s a lot of cliches, corny lines and pink colors. But as an alternative to the standard girls-centric Disney Channel programs, you could do worse than “An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars.”