Secretariat: Sequelbiscuit or something more?

Secretariat released on DVD yesterday and I was finally convinced to take my mess of notes on the film and convert it into review form for the site.  I found myself watching a 35mm print of Secretariat late one night simply because no one else wanted to watch it.  I heard groans of “Do I have to?” to an all out look of fear when it was suggested to co-workers.  No one wanted to give Secretariat a chance.  Hopefully this review of the film might convince you to do so, since despite its problems, Secretariat is a decent flick.

Based upon the horse racing phenomenon known as Secretariat who in 1973 won the triple crown, this Disney horse flick tries to bring heart warming excitement to the horse racing world.  It seemed like anyone over the age of 50 was dying to see this movie, but people under the age of 30 could care less.  Since the trend of people over 50 heading to the box office in droves is not exactly a common trend, box office numbers for the flick were poor.  So poor in fact that one theater owner of a major chain offered to give your money back if you didn’t enjoy the film because he felt it wasn’t getting the respect it deserved.  Even the help of a movie mogul didn’t help Secretariat‘s second coming become a sight to be seen.  But perhaps the bigger question is why did no one want to see this film?

One of the theories I have is the marketing campaign made me feel like I was set out to watch Seabiscuit part 2.  There is more to this story than just a horse race and a crotchety old trainer, but the previews aren’t going to hint at that.  In fact, Disney did so much to try and remind you of Seabiscuit they even used somewhat similar fonts on the poster.    It was as if the entire campaign was, “You liked Seabiscuit, you’ll like this!” That may have played well for the over 50 market, but the younger crowd shrugged their shoulders and moved on with life.

Secondly, it’s a “period” piece about a horse from the 70’s and looked so bright and happy that it made you want to gag a bit.  Every scene in trailers had bright sunny days, beautiful sunsets and Diane Lane in a bad wig and southern accent talking about her little horse that could.  I’d be lying if I told you that those elements didn’t exist in the film but the fact of the matter is they are only a small piece of the puzzle.

What Secretariat does right is weaves a wonderful tale about a horse that no one had faith in and it’s incredible journey to the top by a woman that no one had faith in.  Diane Lane as Penny Tweedy does a wonderful job of playing a no-nonsense house wife who turns her ailing father’s struggling breeding farm into a success.  However, her new found business sense comes with challenges from a brother who wants to sell the farm, and a husband and children who want their stay at home mom back.  Lane does a wonderful job in the role, aside from sporting a wig that might have been made by a blind wig maker in 1973.  While I am not familiar with the real life Penny Tweedy, I assume that Lane hit the nail on the head while playing this woman as a free spirited, fearless woman surrounded by men in a mostly male dominated sport.

Her partner in crime is John Malkovich who plays Lucien Lauren, a cranky horse trainer with a string of losses on the race track and in the fashion world.  Dressed like a flamboyant hobo, Lucien turns out to be the perfect person to clash swords with Penny and eventually lead them to victory.  I really felt as though Malkovich was a perfect addition to the cast, and despite his oddities, Malkovich makes Lucien a lovable character.

The only real problem I had with this film was that it oozed so much happiness and joy that it was almost sickening at times.  I enjoy a good fluffy happy piece every now and then, and Secretariat fits that bill to a tee.   However, I’m not going to rag on a film for being family friendly and inspirational.  After all, there really is no reason for this film to be PG-13 or R.    My only caveat with the flick is I felt the film was trying so hard to be “good natured” it felt a overly cheesy and even at times reminiscent of the “the good ol’ days” of the 50’s rather than ’73.

When it is all said and done, I left Secretariat converting from a doubter to a believer.  If I had the chance for my money back from that generous movie mogul, I would have declined.  He was right,  I did enjoy Secretariat, and I am convinced others will enjoy Secretariat as well.  I managed to convince some unwilling co-workers of mine to see the film and they too admitted they had fun with this flick.  I’m willing to say it was one of the better films I saw this year, and one of the better family friendly films I have seen in a while.  It’s a good natured, fun, inspirational family flick.  It’s” Disney Goodness” at its best and it’s now on DVD.  Pick it up for your next movie night.