‘Dream Horse’ is a light and breezy crowd-pleaser

This warm, feel-good movie is based on a true story and manages to be both rousing and relaxing.

Brad Keefe
"Dream Horse"

After a year with few crowds and not much that was pleasing, it feels good to welcome back an unabashed theatrical crowd-pleaser.

“Dream Horse” doesn’t even hide that status, and it navigates clichés as admirably as it can. The film is elevated by a lead performance from one of today’s great actors, Toni Collette.

Based on real events (which were also depicted in the 2015 documentary “Dark Horse”), it tells a story centered on Jan Vokes (Collette), a barmaid in an economically struggling Welsh town. With no training or experience, Jan decides to follow an unexpected dream of owning a racehorse.

Of course, the economy of her depressed town makes that a barrier in a sport dominated by wealthy racehorse owners, so Jan pulls together a syndicate of town folk to pool their money and purchase a mare and breed a racehorse.

The horse, named Dream Alliance, becomes a metaphor for the David vs. Goliath battle they mount. It is, of course, a horse that there’s just something special about.

“Dream Horse” isn’t a big film, which often works to its advantage. Much like its scrappy horse, it’s more utilitarian than flash. It pulls off the racing scenes on a budget but doesn’t try to be “Secretariat” or “Seabiscuit.”

Director Euros Lyn spends much time off the racetrack exploring the dynamic of the small town and the dreams of the syndicate. Yes, there’s that barrier American audiences sometimes have to movies deep in the UK, with some of the accents and vernacular feeling a bit foreign, because, well, it is.

But it’s easy to dive into the culture. At times, I was reminded a bit of “The Full Monty,” of all things.

That said, this movie wouldn’t be what it is without Collette. She’s the heart and soul of “Dream Horse,” giving a hopeful, warm and optimistic performance that feels right for the moment.

She also has great banter with her onscreen husband (Owen Teale) and a solid supporting cast that includes Damian Lewis.

There are the usual horseracing movie clichés, even though they mostly did actually happen, but “Dream Horse” feels like a breath of fresh air after a year inside.

“Dream Horse”

Now playing in theaters

3 stars out of 5