didn’t help me understand why. The film repeatedly suggests that Chenery’s devotion to Secretariat could destroy her marriage and her family, yet when she and her husband (Dylan Walsh) argue, nothing ever gets too heated, and no one dares use the D word (the two did actually split in 1974). After Chenery misses her oldest daughter’s performance in a school play, no one yells — in fact, no one says a word about it. Chenery’s economist brother Hollis (Dylan Baker) frets that if Secretariat fails to perform on the racetrack, the family will be out on the streets, but a little research reveals that the family’s bank account was hardly at risk (Hollis wanted to sell the farm so they could invest the money in the stock market instead). But why let pesky facts interfere with the creation of an entertaining, heartwarming story?
Rich and director Randall Wallace commit one of the cardinal sins of moviemaking: telling rather than showing. They handle exposition with voice-over and clunky dialogue in which characters tell each other things they already know. We hear a lot about Chenery’s skills as an owner, but we don’t see her do much of anything except stare at Secretariat like she’s in a sequel to The Horse Whisperer. Everyone seems to have memorized a stockpile of inspirational speeches (“This is about life being ahead of you … and you run at it!”), delivering them with a reassuring smile as the soundtrack swells. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, though, since Wallace penned the script for 1995’s Oscarwinning Braveheart (“They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”).
Wallace veers toward a feminist stance. We see Chenery attempting to balance career and family while her annoyed husband frowns and grumbles. When other horse owners laughingly refer to her as a housewife at press conferences, she demurely dismisses them with a shrug and a blithe, barbless retort. Why not mention that Chenery was a graduate of Smith College who studied at Columbia Business School? Or that, before Secretariat, she guided another horse, Riva Ridge, to win the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes? The message that a woman has other options than being a housewife — she can grow up and follow her dreams, by golly — feels dated.