Michelle Payne biopic botches what should’ve been an easy hit

 

The history books famously record Michelle Payne achieved her history-making 2015 Melbourne Cup win aboard a 100-to-1 shot.

However, the odds are much shorter that Ride Like a Girl, the new big-screen biopic telling the story of her stirring victory, will be a box-office winner.

The Australian public can't resist an underdog yarn. So they certainly won't be turning down the chance to tag along on Payne's rags-to-riches journey to become the first female jockey to take out the Race That Stops A Nation.

This is not to say Ride Like a Girl is a good movie. Far from it. The quality fluctuates throughout from quaintly endearing to faintly awful.

Teresa Palmer as Michelle Payne never really convinces as a jockey. Picture: Supplied
Teresa Palmer as Michelle Payne never really convinces as a jockey. Picture: Supplied

The filmmakers continually overcook what should have been a very simple and straightforward dish, often by piling hefty helpings of corn and ham on the side.

Nevertheless, what should keep Ride Like a Girl in the good graces of Australian audiences are its heartfelt portrayals of the ultra-determined Payne, and also the remarkable family who shaped her indefatigable will to succeed.

Teresa Palmer as Michelle Payne and Sam Neill as Paddy Payne both deliver average at best performances. Picture: Supplied.
Teresa Palmer as Michelle Payne and Sam Neill as Paddy Payne both deliver average at best performances. Picture: Supplied.

With one notable exception, the acting on display here is average at best.

Teresa Palmer as Michelle Payne never really convinces as a jockey, but does excel when it comes to conveying her character's tough-as-teak personal ethos.

Sam Neill cops the worst of some wonky, clichéd scripting as Paddy Payne, Michelle's hard-nosed horse-trainer dad, and head of a rough'n'tumble household that lives and breathes thoroughbred racing.

Michelle Payne’s brother Stevie plays himself in the movie. Picture: Supplied
Michelle Payne’s brother Stevie plays himself in the movie. Picture: Supplied

The sole breakout star of the cast is Michelle's brother Stevie, playing himself.

A close ally and confidante of his sister from childhood, Stevie was the strapper of his sister's winning Cup mount, Prince of Penzance. He also knows how to chime in with a funny line or two (something the movie could have used more of).

It will be interesting to see what people make of the prominence of disgraced ex-trainer Darren Weir, who appears often (and in a disarmingly warm and positive light) as a key character in the tale.

Even if you're only slightly aware of the misdeeds that saw Weir (played here by Sullivan Stapleton) banished from racing, his presence here feels like an uncomfortable distraction, to put it politely.

Scene from the movie Ride Like a Girl (2019). Picture: Supplied
Scene from the movie Ride Like a Girl (2019). Picture: Supplied

As for Ride Like a Girl's all-important racetrack sequences, they are passable enough, but not quite as exhilarating as first-time director Rachel Griffiths and her team have been making out while promoting the movie.

 

RIDE LIKE A GIRL

Star rating: **

 

Ride Like a Girl opens in cinemas around Australia on Thursday September 26



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