Dream Horse review: Toni Collette chases hope on four legs in gentle Welsh dramedy
Some people try to mitigate a midlife crisis with fast boats or fancy cars; all Jan Vokes (Toni Collette) wants is a horse. The kids are grown, her husband (Game of Thrones' Owen Teale) is a sentient lump on the couch, and she can see every border of their little Welsh hamlet from her house. Nevertheless, she persists: why resign yourself so soon to a life of drab cardigans and quiet desperation?
Euros Lyn's gentle wish-fulfillment dramedy (in theaters Friday and on demand June 11) is based on the true story of Vokes, who actually did become the unlikely proprietor of a racing champion. Though it has less in common with hoof-pounding epics like Hidalgo or Seabiscuit than with the humbler tales-from-the-village appeal of Billy Elliot or The Full Monty: a quirky bootstraps narrative of improbable small-town ambition and extremely regional accents designed not to rush its modest, affable charms.
Jan, who earns her scant paycheck pouring pints at the local pub and scanning canned goods at the grocery, is by no means an equine expert, or even a promising bet for an amateur; she hardly has the resources to buy hay, let alone a whole stallion. So she pleads with the townsfolk to pool their money on the purchase of just one mare — if you breed it, they will come! The ones who deign to say yes are mostly local drunks and lonely grandmothers, excepting a bright-eyed businessman (Billions star Damian Lewis) who seems to burn for the track as much as she does.
"Remember, there's a less than one-percent chance this horse will ever win a race," he cautions dutifully. And indeed few of the disapproving trainers and tweedy grandees they encounter see much potential in the wobbly, erratic little foal who first takes to the track. But the title, of course — and every underdog movie we've ever seen — doesn't leave much question of how wrong they'll be. What's left then is mostly just to sit back, let your resting pulse rate slow to an easy Acorn crawl, and watch Collette and Co.'s sweetly scrappy dream come true. Grade: B