Right from the beginning, Ride Like a Girl gives you the sense of a kind of rags-to-riches story – the kind that gets you ready to cheer for the underdog. Based on the true story of Michelle Payne, the biopic captures her life, her family and the journey she took to become the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.
Now I’m sure we’ve all heard of the Melbourne Cup. But did you know that it’s considered the most grueling 2-mile race in the world? As Michelle says in the movie, it’s a race that takes both strength, patience and a rider who knows his/her horse. Not only were the conditions tough, but the story brings out the prejudices that Michelle had to contend with as a female jockey. In one scene as she looks for the changing room, the male jockeys point her towards some vague direction. This turns out to be a storage area in a food stall turned into a sad excuse for a changing room. The discriminating obstacles just get worse from there as Michelle delves deeper into the racing world.
But her determination forges on through the entire movie with such tenacity that it’s almost super-human. Overcoming sexism, life-threatening injuries and even her family’s belief that she should just “settle down”, Michelle knocks down obstacle after obstacle in pursuit of the Melbourne Cup. It’s perhaps a bit of odd storytelling that the problems presented in the movie don’t seem to last very long. Resolutions present themselves almost as quickly as the problems arise. It’s unfortunate because I’m sure that the real Michelle Payne probably felt her problems much more acutely than the film presents them.
One of the surprise gems though in the movie comes from the portrayal of Michelle’s brother Stevie. Played by the real Stevie Payne himself, the story captures his rise as a young kid with Down Syndrome to become one of the most noteworthy strappers (a groom for racehorses) in the industry. His love for horses and simple, yet remarkable way of seeing the world is utterly infectious and I found myself loving every bit of screen time that Stevie was given.
Ultimately, the film leaves you with feel-good vibes and helps the audience understand that racing isn’t a simple matter of a person sitting on a horse. I got a clear sense of Michelle’s victory being not just about a finish line, but the sum of many parts. Not least of all of these were the unity of a family faced with enormous hardships and the triumph of the female spirit.