Rachel Griffiths makes a confident and accomplished feature film directorial debut with this uplifting biopic on history-making female jockey Michelle Payne.
Australians love an underdog story, especially when it’s a sporting underdog story, and Michelle Payne’s lifelong dream to win the Melbourne Cup is the kind of inspirational true tale tailor-made for the screen. We already know the destination but it’s the journey that matters, right?
Racing is in the blood of the Payne family and Michelle (played by the luminous Teresa Palmer) is one of eight Payne children to compete in “the world’s most dangerous sport”, after leaving school at 15. The film tracks her journey from the family’s Ballarat farm to glory at Flemington in November 2015, overcoming injury and family tragedy along the way and never losing self-belief.
Michelle’s strength of character is revealed through her determination to follow her dream all the way to the finish line, but it’s her resilience and fortitude that truly stand out in Ride Like a Girl. Despite suffering multiple falls, broken bones and a fractured skull along the way, she is always ready to – literally – get back in the saddle. That the equally injury-prone thoroughbred Prince of Penzance carried her to victory creates a nice symmetry.
As much a celebration of family unity as one woman’s sporting triumph in a male-dominated field, the multitudinous Payne clan and widowed father Paddy (a wonderful Sam Neill) anchor Michelle through the highs and lows. Indeed, Michelle’s real-life brother Stevie plays himself in the film, and upstages the professional cast.
Told in a straightforward and sentiment-lite fashion that’s accessible to all ages, Ride Like a Girl blends a winning formula with the quintessentially Aussie family experience, and the odds are good that audiences will be on their feet cheering Michelle’s incredible achievement.
In cinemas: September 26, 2019
Starring: Sam Neill, Teresa Palmer, Brooke Satchwell
Directed by: Rachel Griffiths