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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Secretariat (review)

It starts out all sad music at momma’s funeral and we gots to sell the horse farm, but dang if nobody can keep Diane Lane down. A nice, proper 1960s housewife, she turns into a spunky, tough cookie of a racehorse owner when her parents’ ranch is left in her hands and her no-goodnik husband (Dylan Walsh: Nip/Tuck) and useless brother (Dylan Baker: The Hunting Party) would rather sell. Actually, the guys aren’t so bad, just completely unsupportive of her dream to make a mint off the new foal, Big Red, who’s just as adorable as can be, what with putting the lump in your throat with his weird jangly baby foalness and all. Soon, Penny Chenery (Lane: Jumper) and her totally kickass sidekick Miss Ham (Margo Martindale: Orphan) are racing the horse, now officially named Secretariat, with the help of a fashion-disaster trainer (John Malkovich: Red) and a magic Negro groom (Nelsan Ellis: The Soloist). Screenwriter Mike Rich (The Nativity Story) and director Randall Wallace (The Man in the Iron Mask) somehow whip this fruit salad of tragedy and triumph and predictability and profound corniness into something wonderful and amazing and the best kind of Hollywood feel-good. I know the damn horse won all those races, but I still found myself gripped with suspense every time those gates opened up on the screen. Ya gotta love a movie about an animal who’s smart enough and cocky enough to want to fuck with everyone watching, hanging back in last place till the moment is right to demonstrate what a spectacular athlete he is: he doesn’t just win, he stacks the deck against himself, and then he wins anyway, with effortless grace. The quietly exultant feminism of the film is kinda like that, too, as Lane and Martindale don’t care if no one else recognizes their cool poise… until it’s something no one can avoid acknowledging.

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watch at home

MPAA: rated PG for brief mild language

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
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