2021, PG, 113 min. Directed by Euros Lyn. Starring Toni Colette, Damian Lewis, Owen Teale, Siân Phillips, Peter Davison.
REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., May 21, 2021
In 2018, it felt like the horse movie could do no wrong. The Rider, Lean on Pete, each one after the other was a certified tear-jerker, packed with emotionally gutting performances that elevated somewhat dubious material. Who knew horses could be key to the tear-jerker formula?
Director Euros Lyn is no stranger to the sappy emotion, having hailed from some of BBC’s finest: the David Tennant era of Doctor Who, Black Mirror’s “Fifteen Million Merits,” and Broadchurch. Dream Horse is Lyn’s first feature, a simple, kind truer-than-life tale about a small Welsh town that raise their own racehorse, aptly named Dream Alliance, to combat the malaise of their everyday lives. The most attached to the horse is Jan (Collette), a grocery store cashier by day and bartender by night who is tired of the same day-to-day routine and yearns for something worthy of waking up in the morning.
Dream Horse has the good nature of a Disney movie, right down to the dying parent cliché (poor Dream Alliance’s mother dying off moments after she births the tiny future gold winner). It has its sweet as sugar moments, with stakes about as high as a stadium jump. Lyn’s film is formulaic, but not to a fault, since Dream Horse’s problems are neither its predictability nor its familiar grab bag of supporting characters. In its familiar beats there’s a comfort, a nice story about nice, real people. Everything about Dream Horse is nice, right down to the credits karaoke of Tom Jones’ “Delilah” that includes the entire cast as well as the sweet real-life people they are performing as.
But when you have to stuff years’ worth of history an almost two-hour film, there is a certain flatness to the beats that need to be hit. Some scenes feel a bit odd, manufactured to serve the plot, or forced characterization. A scene where Alliance member Howard Davies (Lewis) leaves behind his owners’ badge the day of the first race for his wife to find, but somehow manages to skate past the doorman at the VIP entrance, feels fabricated and unreal. When Jan’s husband Brian (Teale) finds himself vegging out once again in front of the television, depressed because he misses caring for Dream Alliance, there’s a bit of a disconnect between actions and characterization.
Yet Dream Horse’s kind spirit makes it watchable and fine, the kind of film meant for lazy days where low stakes dramas feel aptly comforting. Inspiring true story? Perhaps not, but certainly a story that’s genuine enough to earn a few smiles.