When we first see Toni Collette, dazed and tired, in “Dream Horse,” we might think she is still under supernatural attack as she was in “Hereditary,” her face immobile and frozen. But this film is about a small group of Welsh people in a remote town and what happened when they put all their hopes on a young horse named Dream Alliance.
Janet Vokes (Collette) is a barmaid in a small town, keeping an eye on her burned out, but good natured, husband Brian (Owen Teale). Janet works at the local co-op, but feels stuck. One night at the pub, she sees the big talker Howard Davies (Damian Lewis) waving his arms and speaking loudly. Howard is talking about when he owned a race horse and won.
This gets Janet thinking: what if I owned a racing horse?
This is what she does, scouring magazines to look for a suitable mare to have a young foal. As luck would have it, all the quirky pub regulars chip in about ten dollars American. With a little extra money, Janet has enough and a mare has a dashing young horse. The Welsh town is captivated.
Jolly carefree goings-on is the order of the day with mostly everyone bouncing about, drinking and joking almost on the level of a folksy and eccentric tale by Roald Dahl.
This is a feel good underdog tale with lots of tittering and sloshy banter, but Collette and Teale have a solid rapport. Collette as always shines here with spirit and there is a fine understated quality, hand delivered, with equal parts of melancholy and up-bubbling joy. The tormented visage that Collette has now trademarked in other dramatic or horror roles gives way to buoyant cheer.
Though somewhat predictable, the film has enough suspense and thrill in its racing segments. The wondrous horse alone coupled with the jubilant town (though you might get the erroneous impression that every inebriated local is happy) will have you rooting and cheering.
At one point the men get so worked up that mugs of beer bounce and wobble in the air. Howard’s cheeks puff and expand, his eyes go beet red. He yells, apoplectic, close to cardiac arrest. An old man abandoned with mania, drops his pants.
Madcap frenzy pervades all.
“Dream Horse” is a charming, satisfying film that belongs in good company with “Secretariat.”
Though the mood is light and spirited, Toni Collette gives the true story enough pathos to make you pull for Janet Vokes and Dream Alliance all the more. The horse has all the drama and wonder of a charismatic boxer in the tenth round.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org