Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (review)

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Her Little Pony

All over the country, little girls with equine fixations will be blinking their dreamy pony-filled eyes at their daddies and pleading please please please prettyplease can we see the horse movie? And oddly enough, Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story is the cinematic equivalent of the deployment of such adorable nascent feminine wiles: Please don’t shoot the horse with the broken leg, Daddy, Dakota Fanning with her enormous eyes brimming with tears and her quivering lip doesn’t exactly say, but she might as well have. Please nurse the horse back to health at tremendous personal expense and sacrifice so you can later give it to me as a prezzie and I can train her and we can enter the massively prestigious Breeder’s Cup race with her! Pul-eeeeeeze!
Dakota’s Daddy, after all, is Kurt Russell (Sky High, Dark Blue), who did pretty much the same thing recently with the American Olympic ice hockey team, so he should be able to pull off a horsey miracle, right? Let’s call it a mare-icle. I guess they kinda have to tell you right in the title that the flick is based on a true story, because that’s supposed to help you buy a lot of stuff that’s fairly preposterous even if it makes you feel good about yourself and American can-do-it-iveness and the power of little girls to get grown men to do their bidding. The pretty filly Soñador, also called Sonya, here was inspired by the real comeback story of champion Mariah’s Storm, who broke her leg but came back to win more major races, and of course there’s no need to make up the magic of spunky little girls who get crusty old men and wounded younger ones to, respectively, uncrust and get well.

But somehow I suspect a lot of the other aspects of Dreamer were invented, like how right in the beginning of the movie poor little Dakota (War of the Worlds, Hide and Seek) is refused admission to the owners’ area of the racetrack, kept out by a velvet rope, because her Daddy is only a trainer, while mean evil David Morse (the guy her Daddy works for) looks on in disdain. And you just know that before the movie is over, she will be behind that velvet rope and David Morse (Hearts in Atlantis, Proof of Life) will just have to lump it. Or like how Soñador just happens to mean “dreamer” in Spanish. If they’d made the movie about Mariah’s Storm, they’d’ve had to call it Storm Front or something like that, and everyone would think that was the sequel to Twister and not a reliably predictable triumph-of-the-human-and-horsey-spirit kind of thing. I mean, folk were cheering at the end of my screening as if the grand victory of horse and child weren’t a foregone conclusion from the moment the idea for the movie first entered the head of writer-director John Gatins (Coach Carter).

Look, if you haven’t seen a lot of the other 18,943,321 iterations of this exact same story, you’re sure to enjoy it perfectly fine, and even if you have seen 9 million other movies just like Dreamer, you might enjoy it anyway, because Dakota Fanning really is a remarkable young actor. I can’t think of another young girl who can command the screen the way she can, unless maybe you go way back to Shirley Temple, but Fanning’s is a much more mature talent: there’s nothing of Temple’s dressed-up-little-doll cutesiness about Fanning. Russell is charming, too, in that crusty-old-guy-who-needs-to-be-fixed kind of way — he’s a washed-up dreamer himself, and his relationship with his own even crustier father (Kris Kristofferson: The Jacket, Blade: Trinity) needs help, which girl and horse will of course take care of. And Freddy Rodriguez is delightful as the jockey who can’t get over the trauma of an accident on the tracks, and even more delightful when Dakota and her big eyes and her pretty, pretty horse make him well again.

Perhaps, then, the most reliably predictable thing about Dreamer is that, with this cast, you can count on being in for a good time even though you know how it’ll end before it even begins. You could do a lot worse at the movies these days than that.

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