The film attempts to deliver an emotional, compelling, and entertaining story, but it struggles with balance despite some lovely, uplifting moments.
Films about racehorses aren’t new, but Dream Horse does try to do something different with the material by shifting the focus from the horse and its rider to its owners and the life the horse (lovingly named Dream Alliance) brings back to the community. Directed by Euros Lyn from a screenplay by Neil McKay, Dream Horse is based on a true story that is at once heartwarming, but is also a slog to get through. The film attempts to deliver an emotional, compelling, and entertaining story, but it struggles with balance despite some lovely, uplifting moments.
The film, set in Wales, follows Jan (Toni Collette), a middle-aged cashier who is at a standstill in her life. She’s stuck at the same job she’s had for years and has lost any joy for life. It isn’t just her, either. Her husband Brian (Owen Teale) spends the majority of his time parked in front of the TV, barely registering anything Jan says or does, tuned out of life’s daily details. When Jan decides to breed a racehorse, overhearing a conversation at the bar and encouraged by her successful breeding of pigeons as a teenager, she enlists the help of accountant Howard (Damian Lewis) to round up a few in the community who would be willing to join this ambitious endeavor. Dream Alliance winds up providing them with more than financial ambition, but with an energy that was previously lost.
Dream Horse doesn’t reinvent the sports movie or anything, but then it doesn’t aim to do so. The film is a feel-good, pleasant story and one that especially soars when it’s focused on Jan, Howard and the community that came together to fund and support Dream Alliance, a symbol of freedom from their mundane lives. Their story resonates because their reasons for taking on such a challenge (knowing they might not get anything out of it but financial loss) are achingly familiar. The film spends a good amount of time establishing that Jan and those around her have hit a dead-end in their lives. Jan works at a job that doesn’t bring her anything but despair, taking care of aging parents who still critique their way through her life’s decisions.
To them and to others, Jan is a failure, miserable, cycling through the daily grind with little interest and zero spark. It’s a feeling surely everyone has encountered in life at one point or another, working perhaps aimlessly or losing interest and curiosity in the things that once brought excitement and a sense of purpose. To that end, Dream Horse does a good job of showcasing the ways in which Dream Alliance brings a sense of life and ambition back to Jan and revitalizes the community at large. To watch their excited reactions brings some heartwarming touches to the film and it’s easy to be just as thrilled and sad about the results of Dream Alliance’s successes and losses that occur throughout.
Toni Collette is, as always, engaging to watch and her performance here elevates Dream Horse, turning mediocre moments into moving emotional beats. The rest of the cast’s camaraderie and chemistry is also lovely, adding layers to scenes that would have otherwise fallen flat. All that said, Dream Horse is bloated, often slow and boring. The film hits all of its key moments like they are on a checklist, which doesn’t do the story or the characters any favors. With its by-the-book storytelling, there’s not much that happens to elicit enthusiasm There are a lot of moments that could have dug deeper, including a further exploration of Jan’s interiority. She speaks of loss, but Dream Horse barely brushes the topic before moving on to the next thing. In this vein, the film is far less interesting because of its clunky, slow-going buildup.
Dream Horse has quite a few lovely scenes and emotional throughline, but it never rises above its somewhat disjointed execution and slow pace to deliver something truly worthwhile. The film is elevated by its tremendous cast, with their development and reasons for why they got Dream Alliance being at the heart of the story. But when even the tension that comes, once from an injury that could potentially hurt Dream Alliance’s chances in the race, feel subpar at best, it becomes difficult to remain engaged with the material.
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Dream Horse is now playing in theaters and will be available on demand June 11, 2021. The film is 113 minutes long and is rated PG for language and thematic elements.
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