Review by Mia Sherry
Truth be told, how award winning and Oscar-nominated queen of the screen Toni Collette even entertained the notion of starring in Dream Horse is an oral history that will no doubt be passed down through generations along with other profound mysteries like “why is the sky blue?”, “how come Amy Adams is so overlooked and underappreciated?” and “why did Cats (2019) get made?”.
Let me be absolutely clear right away: my main motivation for seeing such a film was largely because I wanted to experience a train wreck in real time. What Dream House ended up being was more akin to a car crash in slow motion. It was the most bizarre mix of Seabiscuit (Gary Ross, 2003)and Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008) I’ve ever seen, intercut with moments of sheer absurdity. But I’ll be damned if I don’t tell you right now: I loved every goddamn second of it.
Is it my former horse girl coming to life? Perchance. Is it just my profound admiration for anything Toni Collette does? More than likely. Was it the abject horror with which I watched Damien Lewis looking perhaps the worst he has in his entire career? Very possibly! Regardless, Dream Horse was one of the best feel-good films I’ve seen this past academic year.
For any readers lucky enough to not know what a ‘horse girl’ is, allow me to quickly explain: The horse girl is a phenomenon that stems from a childhood interest and love of horses. Think deeply– you know you know one. That girl who always wore her hair plaited and tied with a scrunchie. Had an imaginary pony called ‘Peony’ or ‘Snowbell’. Horse pencil cases, pens and notebooks. We all know a horse girl. Hell, maybe you were one. In recent times the ‘horse girl’ has come to be a somewhat derogatory term for someone nerdy with a penchant for ‘odd’ hobbies or the like.
In the year of our lord 2020, it’s fair to say the horse girl has gotten some fair online flack. Heck, I myself am never one to miss a jab at the innocent horse girl. But really, at one point, weren’t we all horse girls? Maybe not horses, maybe you were the dinosaur kid, the animal kid, the ancient mythology kid or the like. The ‘horse girl’ is not so much a label, but rather, a collective of passionate people that enjoy their interests with reckless abandon. Dream Horse personifies this approach to life, and it’s hard not to fall in love with it, even just for an hour.
I’d be lying if I told you there was anything particularly of worth in this film: to its bones it is mediocre at best. The cinematography is middling, the soundtrack is nothing you wouldn’t expect from your typical ‘country-bumpkins-take-on-the-world’ genre, even the acting at times is hammy and not particularly well-executed (it goes without saying that this excludes Toni Collette, who has an innate ability to make every role, regardless of how badly written, turn to gold). But there is something within Dream Horse that, nevertheless, creates a joyful watching experience. I gasped at every jump, I laughed with the wins, I cried with the losses. No thanks to brilliant editing, but rather a genuine earnestness and passion from both the true story that inspired it and the creators who adapted it. It’s hard to put it down to much more than distinct alchemy– despite not being technically very good, it is without a doubt lovingly made.