What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this 1970s-set biopic about Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) and her extraordinary horse, Secretariat, has very little content that's inappropriate for kids, although very young viewers probably won't be too excited about a horse movie in which the horse doesn't talk. It deals with sexism in the horse-breeding community and a woman's "place" in the business sphere in the early 1970s, but the language is still rather mild (mostly just stuff like "housewife" used derisively, for example). Penny is a fantastic role model for kids -- particularly young women -- and the story is uplifting and educational for families.
What's the story?
Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane) is a well-to-do housewife in Denver, where she raises four children with her attorney husband, John (Dylan Walsh), until her mother's death takes her back to her parents' horse farm in Virginia. With her father, Christopher (Scott Glenn), ailing from dementia, Penny decides to take over the farm's operations in the early '70s. She fires an unreliable trainer and asks breeder Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) to come out of retirement and train her thoroughbreds. When the farm's prize mare drops a chestnut foal that stands with astounding speed, Laurin, Chenery, and groom Eddie (Nelsan Ellis) all agree that he's something special. Chenery begins to divide her time -- and her responsibilities -- between mother and wife in Colorado and horsewoman in Virginia, where she oversees the training of her beloved "Big Red" colt, who is eventually raced as SECRETARIAT, the horse that in 1973 became the first Triple Crown winner in more than 25 years.
Is it any good?
When it comes to the magnificent horse, this is not an underdog story. Secretariat had, if the movie's account is to be believed, the heart of a champion from the moment of his birth. What is an underdog tale -- one that's fascinating to witness -- is how an upper-crust housewife transforms herself into a pioneering horse owner who defies the old boys' network of thoroughbred breeding to keep and race her horse. Even when her husband and brother demand that she sell Secretariat after his first year of racing rather than risk him losing a race and devaluing his price, Chenery stands her ground. She won't give up on her horse; she will see him run the big races. Lane is magnificent in the role, bearing the entire soul of the film on her capable shoulders.
There are some admittedly cheesy lines in the movie. When Eddie yells into the Kentucky sky that people are going to see something that's never been done before, it's extremely melodramatic, and Chenery sometimes talks in uplifting monologues that are a bit over the top. But you can forgive the occasional maudlin displays because the story of this extraordinary horse and its even more extraordinary owner is just so compelling. That director Randall Wallace can convey, through the use of the horse's heavy breathing, characters' nervous mutterings, and swelling gospel music, a sense of drama -- even though we all know Secretariat will win -- is remarkable. This is one of those heartwarming, inspiring tales that entire families can see together, rooting for Big Red all the way.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the message that everyone has to "run their own race." What was Penny's race, and how was it different than her brother's?
How was Penny treated differently because she was a woman? Why was she referred to as a "little lady" and "housewife" so often?
What's the movie's message about balancing work and family? It was at times quite difficult for Penny to be away from her husband and children -- was it worth it?