‘Schmaltz’, as every good Jewish girl can tell you, literally means ‘chicken fat’. Now, I don’t know what the Yiddish would be for boiled up ham and horse bones, but ‘Secretariat’ seems a very likely candidate.
You see, this tale of wealth, horse-breeding and good ol’ Christian faith in equinimity is just about as hammy (not to mention schmaltzy) as a study of commodified horse sex can be.
Unlikely as the heavy-hooved treatment makes it seem, this latest slice of Disney pro-family propaganda is actually based on a true story. Note the word ‘based’. Faced with bankruptcy, a senile father (who, to be honest, seems no more mentally impaired than any other character in this American pastoral), a dead mother and a farm full of horses, our heroine Penny Chenery decides to buck up, grab her new foal by the fetlocks and make dreams come true.
Of course, there are trials, tribulations, drama, joy and an unseemly amount of horse-washing to gospel hymn ‘Oh Happy Day’ along the way. Not that you’d know it from Diane Lane’s truly immovable face; her edam-like Hollywood visage is less expressive than a frozen leech.
Still, never mind; at least we’ve got the otherworldly-wise black horse trainer Eddie Sweat, who ‘hears what the horses are thinking through his hands.’ Like so many aborigines, native Americans and salt-of-the-earth black folks before him, Sweat takes one for the ‘magical negro’ team. He takes it hard.
The film also features ‘zany’ John Malkovitch as Secretariat’s trainer. I say Secretariat’s trainer; fuck knows what film he thought he was in – certainly not the same one as his co-stars – as he bellows and storms across the screen like a bad Shakespearean thesp.
Once all the twin-sets, horse-washing and homilies are finally over, what results is the most amazing 31 length win in American racing history. Now, I’m the granddaughter of a horse vet, so that kind of thing means something to me, and is likely to be a hit with pre-pubescent girls on both sides of the Atlantic.
But those of you without equine-addled brains would almost certainly be better off watching the original Belmont Stakes race footage. Which, needless to say, is freely available on YouTube.