Sec­re­tar­iat,

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

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.

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