To review Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story as a film for thinking adults would be akin to looking for the vitamins in a Snickers bar – it’s beside the point. Snickers bars are meant to be devoured and appreciated, just as Dreamer is meant to be watched by young girls with unaltered hearts who can still love freely.
Honestly, I’m rather ashamed to admit that I enjoyed Dreamer much more than I should have, being someone who ostensibly writes critically about film. If I had my grown-up hat on, I would tell you that it’s predictable pap, with an absurd storyline that nobody with a working brain would buy for a second. I would tell you that it’s designed to sell tickets and nothing more, that kids are such an easy sell no one even bothers anymore.
But, ah, that would be to tell you lies, dear readers, as Dreamer is a no-holds-barred, glorious, ridiculous crowd-pleaser if there ever was one. And all I wanted to do upon exiting the theater was tell everyone how much I enjoyed it. So, put the dunce cap on me and call me a sap.
Dreamer tells the story of a scrappy little girl, Cale (the reliable Dakota Fanning), who is a third generation horse person on the farm, the only horse farm in their neighborhood without horses, who begs her dad (the underrated Kurt Russell) to take her to work with him. Her dad relents when Cale throws herself in front of his truck, backpack in hand. Well, not literally. But enough to show him how much she wants to go.
Turns out, Dad trains race horses for a living and on this day, on the track, a two year-old thoroughbred named Sonadore (“Dreamer” in Spanish) falls and breaks her leg. As she’s about to be put down, the father makes the horse’s owner an offer he can’t refuse. Rather than destroy the horse, he’ll buy it for $3,000.
Through a lot of TLC, a young girl’s ambition and some good luck, eventually, Sonadore gets strong enough to race and that takes her to the Breeder’s Cup where you can probably guess what happens.
In fact, you could probably not see the movie and know everything you need to know about it. But if you didn’t see it, here is what you’d miss: A layered and honest performance by Kurt Russell (worth the price of admission alone), a lot of exciting horse racing scenes (admittedly, not as exciting as Seabiscuit but a thrill nonetheless), and a satisfying story that takes you where you want to go and gives you two hours of soul-massaging.
But best of all, if you happen to be a parent of a young horse lover, boy or girl, you get the rare thrill of watching a child’s face react to the highs and lows of a girl/horse drama. Some of the more jaded tweens might find it too simple-minded for them but will perhaps be moved nonetheless.
Working from his own script, director John Gatins gets as real as one can when dealing with the unreality of a story like this, that takes its cues from horse whispering, intuition and, of course, dreams. The writing is at times breathtaking, at other times, not so much – but with actors like Russell and Fanning, there isn’t a moment when the story loses its grip – these are people we want to succeed, people we grow to care about in the time we spend with them.
Dreamer is a movie that may have an impact on a young girl’s outlook on her own life, what she can achieve just having the balls to do so – in our world, girls are told that if they are pretty enough sooner or later a prince will come along and rescue them (well, girls, I got news for you…). How revolutionary to have a young female character driving the story, making the choices, without whom there would be no happy ending.
We see this in films with boy heroes, but there aren’t a lot of girl heroes. And if you read many reviews by grown-ups who were unimpressed, well, perhaps you will agree with them. But allow yourself to be a ten year-old girl for a moment – with wild ideas about training race horses, in a world where you don’t have to sacrifice your girly dreams to make things happen because your girly dreams are what make things happen.Sure, it isn’t Citizen Kane. It isn’t even National Velvet. But there is room for Dreamer because there aren’t many other films out there like it. There is too much caution in cinema these days to portray the ecstasy of the truly happy ending – but Dreamer holds nothing back – and in those moments of joy that wash over the young faces, staring up at the screen life just got a little less miserable. Now, that’s something.