Review by Sean Boelman
The feature directorial debut of actress-turned-director Rachel Griffiths, Ride Like a Girl is a new underdog story with a message that is as inspiring as ever for the genre. Thanks to a compelling true story and some strong performances, the film overcomes its somewhat conventional structure to be an entertaining crowd-pleaser.
The movie tells the story of a young woman who has the dream of becoming the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, one of the most difficult races in the sport of horse racing. This sport is no stranger to the genre — there are plenty of films about underdog jockeys trying to win a big race — but Michelle Payne’s story still feels particularly powerful.
Like most underdog stories, Payne’s experiences are very inspiring and uplifting, but this story works even better than usual for any young women who may see the movie. At times, the film’s attempts to inspire feel a bit shallow, but the extraordinary nature of the subject allows the movie to work well regardless.
That said, even though her story is very compelling, Payne isn’t made into as compelling of a character as one would expect. The only development that she is given beyond her ambitions is her relationship with her family, and this often feels underutilized. A few interesting moments aside, these subplots feel like a waste of runtime.
Arguably the film’s biggest issue is that it is awkwardly paced. Although the movie isn’t particularly long, nor is it ever boring, the film isn’t consistent. The biggest challenges that the protagonist faces don’t come into play until later in the movie, and at that point, the character’s struggles end up feeling quite rushed.
Teresa Palmer does a good enough job in her role, but much of her performance feels very plain. She doesn’t put much emotion into her turn, and as a result, it becomes much harder to empathize with her character. Sam Neill has the biggest supporting role of anyone in the cast, but he feels extremely underutilized in the film.
On a technical level, the movie is very strong. Most actors-turned-directors have some issues in creating a vision for the screen, often going too ambitious to the point that they get in over their heads. Griffiths, on the other hand, does a wonderful job of shooting the film, particularly the racing sequences, in a way that is exciting and cinematic.
Ride Like a Girl may be a very conventional movie, but for the most part, it is very enjoyable. Although audiences won’t see much of anything that they haven’t seen before, it’s still a palatable and uplifting watch.
Ride Like a Girl is now in theaters and on VOD.