Oct 18, 2010

secretariat saves his own movie, because he's that awesome


You guys, I know. If you still visit this blog, you probably wonder just where I went and if I still read horse books and view horse movies and torture myself endlessly with their varying shades of something we might call "quality."

I would like to sit here and tell you that I have a huge back load of books and movies to review, but I would be lying. The best excuse I can come up with is...I just haven't been trying very hard? Yes, that pretty much sums it up.

Seriously, that and I needed a break. It was glorious.

Now, that said, I did run off and see Secretariat on opening weekend. I have pondered whether or not I liked it since. I never really cared about Penny Chenery, and I can say with some seriousness that I still don't really care about Penny Chenery. Am I a little dismayed that they should have called this movie Chenery: Housewife Turned Inspirational Rogue? Somewhat,  yes. Because this movie is basically Chenery: Housewife Turned Inspirational Rogue masquerading as a movie about Secretariat because, as the movie's makers probably figured out well before me, Penny Chenery? Yeah, not so much.

Also, it's a Disney movie. In a way that you'd wish Disney would dial it down a whole, whole lot. I half expected a fairy to come glittering out of nowhere and tap Secretariat with a magic wand emitting golden sparkle showers, that's how Disney this thing is. Diane Lane doesn't know how to converse with people other than to snap at them or give mini speeches about the human condition. It's annoying, and I think if this character existed in real life I would loathe her. I'm pretty sure the real Penny Chenery would loathe her if forced to spend more than ten minutes alone with her. It's just this fake, golden, pasted on smile quality about Diane Lane that drives me absolutely nuts that she uses to the point of absurdity here. It is Disney at its most sentimental mixed with the hippie movement and gospel music.

And then for some reason little of it matters because Secretariat comes prancing along and in one minute of galloping or standing and staring he completely wipes away how annoyed I am with all the sap. Which is amusing to me because the movie spends a good long while making underdogs of the people around Secretariat in order to make Secretariat marketable, totally underestimating the fact that Secretariat, the brilliant animal at the heart of it all, who was so legendary that people didn't know how to make a movie about him, would wind up saving his own movie just by standing there looking awesome.

Secretariat is the pure anti-underdog sports story. People love him because he was amazing, not because he was some little nothing who overcame obstacles and blah blah blah Seabiscuit blah. No one really needed Penny Chenery's story to tell Secretariat's. So, yes, this is my long winded pondering as to why this was the path the film people took.

But whatever. Secretariat. He was awesome. The horses portraying him were fabulous. John Malkovich was amusing as the French-shrieking Lucien Laurin. Do I wish they'd not dumbed down the Belmont Stakes race call? YES, because I cannot fathom why you'd want to do that to the moment that cemented the horse as a superstar. (Two, Four, Six! Ten, twelve, fourteen! I can count, too! All day! It's fabulous and totally stupid!) The gospel music I didn't have a huge problem with, as the movie was really pushing the God's Horse angle. In so doing I think it lost the People's Horse (the crush of interest on anything other than Vietnam or Watergate, which was Secretariat) angle, which arguably was one of the great reasons most people know the name Secretariat over Affirmed or Seattle Slew.

But, well, you can't expect to take a story like Secretariat, plunge it in Disney, and expect to get it all right in an hour and a half. I still enjoyed a lot of it, and I'll watch it again eventually.


Anonymous said...

You don't know what you are talking about. I know the people involved in this movie and your comments are way off base and disrespectful of the people and the time and work that went into making this a very enjoyable movie. I'm a turf writer but I realized I was watching a movie not a documentary. I have known Penny for 17 years and Diane Lane was perfect playing her. Penny thinks so, too. What Penny did for women in this sport was amazing and for you to be so nasty about her achievements reflects poorly on you. Audiences around the country are breaking into spontaneous applause during this movie and the racing scenes are truly original in their photography and ability to place the viewer right in the race. These are the best racing scenes to ever appear in a movie. They are stunning. The director makes you forget that you know how the race is going to end and you are on the edge of your seat crying for Secretariat to win. Marianna Haun

Mara said...

Dear Marianna,
I'm not sure where you jumped off the boat on understanding differences of opinion and decided attacking all others with opinions not lock step with yours is a-okay, but please realize that I officially stated that I liked the movie. That said, it isn't perfect, nor will I pretend it's perfect when I believe otherwise.

Thank you for your lovely comment.

Anonymous said...

I think 'Secretariat' needed the Penny Chenery story story to tell it because without it...it could've been told in about an hour. Secretariat almost wrote his own story. He was a fantastic horse, not like a Seabiscuit who rose from obscurity or Ruffian with a pathetically (in the end) intriguing story. He ran. He won. He broke records. He went to stud. Diane Lane was a fantastic actress and the race scenes were great...just ignore that Belmont was at Keeneland, and the race calls were like football commentary. People cheered in the audience. If this can get people interested in racing, all the better. The only big nitpick: "Oh Happy Day!"

Vexing said...

Honestly, I would have loved to see "Secretariat: The Story" instead of "Penny is so great, and her horse was too." I don't need an underdog story to get excited about Big Red. Maybe it takes a horse nerd, but what's wrong with watching a movie about a horse who shows promise, loses a few, and blows everyone away at the Belmont? That moment stands on its own, without Penny's story, or Sweat' story, or Turcotte's story. I've cried several times in my life watching replays of Secretariat's win in the Belmont, despite not knowing a thing about the people surrounding him.

In the end I wanted less cheese, less human interest, and more horse. Something like this movie, but made by HRTV instead of Disney.

Natalie Reinert said...

Aw, Marianna's way into Secretariat. It's like how I stopped reading a book yesterday because it was critical of the Stone Roses. I really like the Stone Roses. Screw you, stupid character in book who doesn't like the Stone Roses.

That and the book was just awful. There was that.

I didn't see Secretariat, because I'm afraid of catching bedbugs at the movie theater and also because I don't have the spare fifty bucks to go to a movie on Friday night. Why? Because I've been working as an exercise rider - you know, in the industry that this movie is supposedly going to do so much for - and I'm flat broke with no horses to ride.

Disney did the only thing they knew how to do with a sports story, take an underdog, this time played by a big red horse instead of by a character actor, and add some stereotype here, splash of feel-good soul there, a big dose of nostalgia for an era that never existed, and BOOM you got a family-friendly movie for the competition-free fall season.

I'm okay with that, that's what Walt set out to do with his company early in the 20th century, and at least they're staying true to his vision.

I do question Marianna's assertion of how much Penny Chenery did for women in the sport. Has she been in the lady's restroom on the backside at Aqueduct?

Linda Shantz said...

Of course Penny loved the movie, it was all about her! Why can't anyone make a movie about horse racing that depicts it halfways accurately? I also work in the racing industry and wow, can't they do better? I was crying, that's for sure, but because I was in such pain!!

Personally I was really offended by how they depicted Lucien Lauren. I went to see it with my French-Canadian friend and she felt the same way - neither of us could understand his French! Sigh....there's a couple of hours and $13.00 I'll never get back!! :-D

Anonymous said...

I know what it was like trying to get ahead as a woman in 1973. Sexism abounded. Penny had to work hard to get her horse recognized. Your totally sexist comments are not appropriate. Secretariat was able to win the Triple Crown because she believed in him and she had few supportive male figures to help her. I cannot believe that it is 2011 and I am still having support women's role in sport. You are a neanderthal!!