Ride Like a Girl

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Ride Like a Girl
dir Rachel Griffiths
scr Andrew Knight, Elise McCredie
prd Rachel Griffiths, Richard Keddie, Susie Montague-Delaney
with Teresa Palmer, Sam Neill, Stevie Payne, Sullivan Stapleton, Genevieve Morris, Magda Szubanski, Jacob Warner, Sophia Forrest, Henry Nixon, Jason Benbow, Brooke Satchwell, Aaron Glenane
release Aus 18.Sep.19,
US 13.Mar.20, UK 26.Jun.20
19/Australia Lionsgate 1h38

neill stapleton szubanski

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payne and palmer
Based on a true story, this warm and lively Australian drama is a terrific feature directing debut for Rachel Griffiths, with a superb cast of characters who effortlessly engage the audience. It's a bit light and smiley, complete with moving speeches punched by a swirly David Hirschfelder score. But there's enough quirky attitude to hold the interest, and the story is solidly involving, even if you've heard it before
After his wife dies, Paddy Payne (Neill) raises 10 children on his own. Eight of them become jockeys, including the youngest Michelle (Palmer), who dreams of racing in the Melbourne Cup even though girls aren't allowed. Michelle shows natural skill but, as she begins to climb up in the rankings, her father thinks it's too dangerous for her to race in the top tier. Indeed, she's badly injured in a fall. But she's also determined to make a comeback working with trainer Darren (Stapleton) and her horse-whisperer brother Stevie (as himself), who has Down's Syndrome.
The Payne family is a rambunctious bunch, always up to something. They travel in an ambulance, tease each other mercilessly and take horse-riding seriously. They also endure a series of wrenching events that keep them close as a family, even if Paddy struggles to show his feelings. Griffiths also makes sure the side characters are vividly depicted, each with his or her own sassiness. Of course, Michelle's journey to the 2015 Melbourne Cup isn't easy: she was only the fifth woman to ride the race.

Performances are open-hearted, with nicely layered work by Palmer as a young woman determined to break into a boy's club. Her tenacity is tempered with earthy humour, which makes her easy to identify with. Meanwhile, Neill finds some terrific textures in Paddy, a stony man who runs deep. He's more supportive than his begrudging personality lets on. Playing himself, Payne has terrific screen presence, effortlessly stealing scenes with a combination of wisdom and sparky wit.

This is a remarkably unpushy look at how women must do twice as much work (if not more) to succeed in the same role as a man. Michelle's journey is gruelling, demanding outrageous discipline and determination in the face of near-constant harassment at every level of the sport. It seems particularly galling that her fate is continually decided by men sitting around a table. So if there's never much doubt about where it's heading, Michelle's journey is gripping and powerfully inspirational.

cert pg themes, language, violence 22.Jun.20

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