Rachel Griffith’s directorial debut, Ride Like a Girl tells the true story of Michelle Payne, the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, and stars Australian actress Teresa Palmer. Telling of the battles, heartache and events prior to Payne’s 2015 victory with her ‘prince’, Prince of Penzance, Ride Like a Girl is inspiring, empowering, and an epic snippet of Michelle Payne’s life.
In truth, I was hesitant to see this film, not because of the horse racing protests and controversy, but because Australian films (despite myself being an Australian) rarely speak to me. More often than not, Australian films that I have seen are (in my opinion) for the Caucasians, for the ‘baby boomer’ generation, and often contain ‘humour’ that I personally don’t find amusing.
But even though Ride Like a Girl is about a mostly typical Aussie family, what spoke to me was Michelle’s struggle of being in a male-dominant industry, something that I can relate to with being a film critic. Connecting to Michelle Payne’s journey, I found myself on a roller coaster of emotions; happy, heartbroken, frustrated, hopeful and overjoyed.
Teresa Palmer is incredible in her portrayal as Michelle Payne. Even without dialogue, Palmer’s facial expressions in this film speak volumes. With an impressive duality, Palmer portrays Payne perfectly, transitioning from a cherished daughter of Sam Neill’s character Paddy Payne, to a stubborn, fierce and determined athlete. Palmer and Neill’s on-screen chemistry is also brilliant, displaying the turbulent relationship Payne had with her father at the time.
I understood Paddy Payne’s point of view regarding the reluctance for his daughter’s choice in career, despite being the main influence that ignited her aspirations. Not purposefully wanting to dash his child’s dreams, you really could feel how conflicted Paddy Payne was through Sam Neill’s effortless and emotionally stressful portrayal.
But the true stand-out of the film would be Stevie Payne who plays himself. Stevie Payne is Michelle Payne’s Down Syndrome younger brother who has his own story told within Ride Like a Girl, displaying his character, his own challenges and his quiet achievements. The film also shows Stevie’s close relationship with his sister, to the point I had to remind myself that Teresa was just portraying Stevie’s sister and not actually related to him. This was because the chemistry Teresa Palmer had with Stevie Payne felt very real. In fact, I would be surprised if the two didn’t have a friendship after this movie was completed.
I suppose some may say that this film is too ‘Hallmark’ for their liking. But somebody actually lived through these struggles! And because the story is true, it only makes Ride Like a Girl even more fascinating to watch.
I genuinely loved this film and would absolutely rush to the cinemas to see it again. We all know Michelle Payne won the Melbourne Cup in 2015, but it’s the journey to that victory that we don’t know about. Now after seeing Ride Like a Girl, I can understand why Rachel Griffith sought hard to make Michelle Payne’s journey into a film, and it’s a damn good one. Just make sure when seeing Ride Like a Girl to bring the tissues!
Ride Like a Girl is an epic tale that deserves every praise it receives and is in Australian cinemas now.