Review | Rachel Griffiths debuts as director with ‘Ride Like A Girl’

Ride Like A Girl | Dir: Rachel Griffiths | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Director Rachel Griffiths was in no doubt what she wanted her first feature film to be about after she saw Michelle Payne becoming the first female jockey to win Australia’s toughest horse race in its 155 year old history.

The film opens with archival documentary footage of the actual Michelle Payne as a little girl, being asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. When she answers “I just want to win the Melbourne Cup”, that is the cue to get the tissues out in the heart-breaking, heart-warming film.

Even though the audience knows that the film will end with Payne’s historic victory with her much-loved brother Stevie as the strapper of winning horse Prince of Penzance, there had been many hurdles to overcome. Griffiths shares Payne’s journey by mixing the hardships with humour and forcing the audience to reach for the tissues time and time again as tears and laughter mingle.

The death of her mother left her horse trainer father Paddy (Sam Neil) with ten children to care for, and eight of them were to become jockeys. Michelle was the youngest and formed a close bond with her Down’s Syndrome brother Stevie, who plays himself in the film.

Teresa Palmer plays Michelle Payne and, having grown up with horses, does some of her own riding in the film – but not the actual races. Palmer shows Payne’s stubborn perseverance in the face of the rigidly chauvinistic restrictions that were place in her way as well as the deprivations needed to reach the correct riding weight demanded.

The odds were practically impossible that Payne would even make it to ride in the Melbourne Cup, especially after she nearly lost her life in a riding accident. Australian films often celebrate battlers and this true story celebrates what one determined young woman has achieved by holding onto her dream, taking risks and working her ass off to achieve it.

Lezly Herbert