The latest Walt Disney motion picture, Secretariat, based on “the impossible true story” of a Thoroughbred horse that wins the Triple Crown in 1973, is an inspiring “We Can Do It” biography more about the horse’s owner, Penny Chenery than about the actual little horse who could.
Diane Lane plays the lead role of Penny Chenery, a tenacious woman with vision and heart. Upon her mother’s death and her father’s decline in health, she takes over the family farm and enters the predominantly testosterone-filled world of horse racing. Immediately she must begin making executive decisions on her father’s prize horses and finds herself in the middle of the gentleman’s club, initiating multi-million dollar deals and standing up for what she believes. Her unwavering faith, love and determination for Big Red plays a big role in the success of the horse we all have come to know as Secretariat. Aside from her poor make-up job, Lane’s pitch perfect portrayal of Ms. Chenery reminds the audience that conviction and commitment are at the core of any and all success.
The interesting yet spot-on casting of John Malkovich for the role of Lucien Laurin, Secretariat’s trainer, made for some of the film’s highlights. I’m so accustomed to seeing Malkovich play quirky, intense characters that seeing him on the screen was a bit discordant with the Disneyesque vibe of the movie. But as per his usual, he completely won my heart, delivering an endearing, snarky performance that, at times, stole the show. Not many other actors could deliver the line, “that guy couldn’t train a monkey to pick his own butt,” with such grace and eloquence as John Malkovich. His character, Lauren, provides yet another motivational aspect to the movie as he has to overcome personal insecurities and failures before ultimately finding his way to the gem of his career.
There were times throughout the film however, that I felt like I was watching a bad community theatre production, between the over-dramatic acting and the banal dialogue. I found myself contemplating sneaking into the theater next door playing The Social Network, until I reminded myself that a) it is a Disney movie and b) it is a true story. But ultimately I became enraptured by the inspiring storyline, in particular, the final scenes depicting the incredible wins by Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Somehow, though the audience knows how it ends, those last few scenes keep you at the edge of your seat until the very last gallop. And it is hard to not walk away from the film with a newfound determination to conquer whatever it is in life you want to conquer.
Secretariat comes out in theaters today, Friday, October 8th. Though it is a Disney film, it is rated PG and is probably not suitable for kids under six. And mom’s, bring your Kleenex. The gospel rendition of “Oh Happy Day” played over Big Red’s final crossing of the finish line is sure to illicit a tear or two.
This sappy mom gives Secretariat a 3.5 fist pumps.
Disclaimer: I received free tickets to the screening of this film which in no way affected my review of the film. If they had thrown in some popcorn or a swag bag it might have been a different story. Just kidding. Kind of.