If there’s one sure thing in life, it’s that every place and time period eventually gets their own underdog horse movie. In Dream Horse, that region is a provincial valley in South Wales, where the beer flows like superfluous consonants.
Jan Vokes (Toni Collette) lives there with her mostly toothless, kitschily tattooed husband Daisy (presumably a rugby nickname though it’s never stated explicitly), played by Owen Teale (Alliser Thorne from Game of Thrones). Daisy likes to take Jan for granted and yell at Welsh veterinary shows on the TV, while Jan works a stultifying job as grocery checker while taking care of her ungrateful parents and pondering how her life got so joyless.
That is, until one night at the local pub, she meets Howard Davies (Damian Lewis), who’s kind of a blowhard businessman, but one who used to own a racehorse. Which gives Jan an idea: what if she could somehow convince a whole town of oddballs to chip in on a racehorse together? Could it one day become the perfect hooved metaphor for their own self-image? Well, I guess you’ll have to watch to find out!
I hadn’t seen Dark Horse, the 2015 Sundance documentary upon which Dream Horse is based telling the story of the horse Dream Alliance, so Dream Horse‘s predictable arc (THIS Summer, ONE HORSE gives a town HOPE…) wasn’t quite as remedial as it’d probably be for those who have. Dream Horse belongs to the tradition of proudly dowdy British comedies, like a poor man’s Waking Ned Divine or The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill And Came Down A Mountain (I admit, I do have a soft spot for that one), that seem to take a perverse pride in being thoroughly affable but not too funny. It’s the kind of movie where if you see Jan fiddling with her car’s loose headlight and walking away, you can assume the headlight will fall comically sideways as soon as she’s out of earshot. Or if you see the town kook played by Karl Johnson fiddling with his belt, you can bet his pants will fall down before the scene is over (the old Chekhov’s Pants rule). It’s suffused with the kind of mostly corny, extremely gentle humor you can imagine appealing to every contestant on the Great British Bake Off, the comedic equivalent of mushy peas.
Dream Horse is a great Welsh race off, an inspirational horse film with multiple falling down pants gags. It’d probably be overbroad and overfamiliar if not for the setting. How often do we get to hear this many Welsh accents, or see Damian Lewis when he’s not pretending to be American (he’s one of the very best American accent fakers, along with Dr House and Tom Wamsgans from Succession)?
Toni Collette is her usual hyper-competent self playing the faithful but unfulfilled wife who dares to dream for more. But if I could make a suggestion: could we limit the close-ups of Toni Collete crying to like 10 or 12? This movie probably has 15 different close shots of Toni Collette’s contorted cry face, using weeping for every dramatic transition. It’s like watching a basketball team that can only run iso for its star.
So if you’re a fan of Toni Collette’s cry face and old men without pants, then boy is Dream Horse the movie for you. You know exactly what you’re getting with Dream Horse. It’s tolerable, and just Welsh enough to keep it interesting.