The debut directing credit from Rachel Griffiths, Ride Like A Girl is the story of Australian jockey Michelle Payne and her journey towards becoming the first ever female to win the biggest horse race in the country, The Melbourne Cup. Staring Sam Neil, Magda Szubanski and Teresa Palmer as Michelle, the film is a quintessential amalgamation of Australian images, people, and plot.
I was fortunate enough to attend a special Q&A screening of the film last week with Director Rachel Griffiths and Michelle Payne herself in attendance, which was insightful to hear how the film came into being and how they managed to shoot some of the trickier elements with the horses thanks to the latest technological advancements with cameras. Since I love hearing behind the scenes stories I enjoyed the Q&A a lot, yet it could not make up for the fact that the movie was, to me, simply…okay.
The story, whilst based on true events, felt a bit like a highlight package of Michelle’s life instead of a coherent flowing narrative. Starting in her childhood each sequence then jumps forward another couple of months, or even years, creating a very disjointed path through her growth as a jockey. This never allows the audience to get close enough to the characters or their situation to really become invested. Also knowing the final outcome of the film before you even begin watching makes the viewing experience all round a little flat. The performances are nice from everyone especially Stevie Payne, Michelle’s brother with down syndrome, who plays himself in the film.
But ultimately the whole movie felt like something you would see on free to air TV, which might have been due to Rachel Griffiths past experience as a television actress. It was structured in such a way that you could easily insert add breaks into it. Plus some of the music choices of popular songs were really jarring in the way they were used and pulled me right out of the scene where they were used, particularly because they were released years after the film was set.
The other element that could have made the whole thing not sit quite right with me is my dislike for the horse racing industry. Whilst there is no violence against animals depicted in the film (except for the racing whip, which is arguably unnecessary) it didn’t stop a horde of animal cruelty protesters storming the Melbourne premiere. One protester was even quoted by The Age  saying that there was nothing to celebrate about women receiving accolades typically reserved for men in “an animal abuse industry”. “It’s using the issue of gender inequality to promote animal abuse, and that is something we oppose – we don’t think that’s something for women to be proud of.”
I believe it is important for people to have passions. It gives you a purpose and something to work towards during ones life. Abolishing gender inequality is a passion of mine as it is so systemic within many industries including film and sport. Fighting for animal rights is a passion for other people so it’s hard to draw a straight line between what should be considered a win for gender equality and what shouldn’t when it comes to this kind of sport; one that is considered one of the most dangerous in the world. These moral issues don’t make an appearance in the film however. It’s more of a personal debate within yourself if you care about both topics and if you do care about both topics I can guarantee it will impact the way you watch the film.
Ride Like A Girl is a simplistic family pleasing biopic based on a true story of a stubborn yet determined woman achieving a dream she’d had since she was 5 years old. It’s not overly deep or complex and lacks that point of difference that may have lifted it to the next level. I felt underwhelmed and morally conflicted but the praise it received from the audience the night I saw it solidifies for me that this film will most likely do very well for itself regardless.