Ride Like A Girl is a sports drama based on the true story of Michelle Payne, who comes from a family of jockey’s, becoming the first female to win the most prestigious Horse Race, the Melbourne Cup. The film is led by the impressive casting of Teresa Palmer and Sam Neill, and the story has many of the traits that other inspirational female stories, like Katie Taylor’s boxing journey, have. However, while there is a lot of potential and many positives in Rachel Griffiths’ debut feature, it doesn’t quite hit the mark of other real-life stories brought to the big screen.
Interestingly, the film opens up with footage of the real Michelle Payne and provides the background of her family, her close relationship with Stevie, her brother with Downs syndrome, and the fact she’s aspired to become a Melbourne Cup winner since she was a young girl. We then cut to Michelle (Teresa Palmer), gearing up for the Melbourne Cup race, and then back to when Michelle was a young girl. While jumping from the real footage to reel, and then cutting from present to past was a little much, it does successfully establish our protagonist’s life and goal instantly.
One of the things the film does well is constantly highlighting the obstacles Michelle has or will have on route to achieving her goal. Whether it’s a young Michelle questioning why her elder sister cannot get the same opportunities as her brother, despite clearly being the better racer, or whether it’s the unfortunate and ever-present issue of when a man asks Michelle for “a ride” in exchange for career progression. It’s a consistent theme throughout the narrative that effectively enables us to root for our protagonist.
The true strength of Ride Like A Girl is undoubtedly in Teresa’s performance, who brilliantly brings Michelle to life. She has a wonderful look that is matched by an endearing on-screen presence. Teresa pushes all the right notes as an inspiring hero, from showing her character’s caring qualities when she’s with Stevie, her fighting qualities when she goes above and beyond in her quest to be the best, and even showing Michelle’s flaws in the relationship with her father (Sam Neill). It’s a well-rounded performance that makes this story tick.
Michelle’s two key relationships are also pivotal, not only in allowing audiences to see different sides of her but also in bringing two very different elements to the story. With Stevie (played by the real-life Stevie Payne), we get the light-hearted moments, as he is a constant source of comedic relief in almost every scene he is a part of. In regards to Michelle’s relationship with her father, it is the source of the best dramatic and emotional moments in Ride Like A Girl. The relationship slowly plays out over the course of the film, and it’s through this relationship, our hero gets that much-needed boost to will her way towards the triumphant finale.
But while the relationship between Michelle and her father unfolds nicely and helps enhance the drama in the narrative, the film rushes a lot of other moments. The entire set up of the film feels disjointed. It seems to rely on the footage at the beginning in regards to audiences understanding the relationship between the siblings. So it doesn’t do a good job of continuing to establish this bond or even show much of the other siblings, and this means some scenes designed to be more emotional and moving have little to no effect on audiences. It is also so quick that it doesn’t allow you to digest what’s happening, and other scenes when Michelle is pushing forward and fighting to get better feel forced, as it’s merely supported by the score, not the story.
There’s a delicate balance when creating a biopic, as filmmakers have to choose what to focus on and what parts will be the source of drama and emotional highs and lows. Ride Like A Girl doesn’t seem to have that balance, as it attempts to cram a lot into the story, and it expects audiences to understand the significance of moments despite the lack of build-up. Instead of cramming so much into a near 100 minute runtime, the film needed to be longer to incorporate all these different aspects of Michelle’s story.
In the end, you walk away from this biopic feeling that something doesn’t quite hit the mark. There is still that feeling of joy and triumph at the end of this story, but had the overall pacing and flow of the film been better, it would have done a much better job of supporting Teresa’s performance. If anything, Teresa Palmer and Sam Neil will make this a decent one-time viewing. However, Ride Like A Girl certainly had the potential to be far greater than it was.
Dir: Rachel Griffiths
Scr: Andrew Knight, Elise McCredie
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Sam Neill, Stevie Payne, Sullivan Stapleton, Brooke Satchwell, Magda Szubanski
Prd: Rachel Griffiths, Richard Keddie, Susie Montague-Delaney
DoP: Martin McGrath
Runtime: 98 minutes
Ride Like A Girl is now available on DVD and Prime Video here.