This is a tale of two movie reviews. One sane. The other...well not so much.
After reading snippets of both you'll hardly believe they're talking about the same movie. Steven Greydanus writes in the National Catholic Register that Secretariat is:
an uplifting Disney movie about a horse that happens to be the greatest thoroughbred of the 20th century. Rich and Wallace, both Christians, serve up the big emotions and sincere sentiment that they’re known for — with a generous dollop of Golden Age Hollywood piety, from the epigram from Job to the strains of “Oh Happy Day” playing during Secretariat’s runaway triumph at the Belmont Stakes. Those who say Hollywood doesn’t make them like this anymore shouldn’t miss Secretariat.That's enough to make me want to see it right there. Yup. I'm that simple.
But then you have to get a load of this reviewer from Salon.com named Andrew O'Hehir who goes ballistic on the movie even though he even admits he liked it. He compares this feel good Disney movie to the works of Nazi sympathizer Leni Riefenstahl and even worse (gasp!)...Glenn Beck!!
Searching for metaphors in his handy "Writing Insanely Liberal Movie Reviews for Dummies" he invoked the Tea Party, Nietzsche and Sarah Palin!!!
This is awesome reviewing where you just know the reviewer's meds ran out and his therapist is on vacation and not answering his phone even though he's called him nineteen times every hour.
You've got to check this out:
"Secretariat" is a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl, and all the more effective because it presents as a family-friendly yarn about a nice lady and her horse....Wow. Look Greydanus' review made me want to see the movie but I've got to admit Salon.com's review made me want to see it even more. Maybe twice.
Although the troubling racial subtext is more deeply buried here than in "The Blind Side" (where it's more like text, period), "Secretariat" actually goes much further, presenting a honey-dipped fantasy vision of the American past as the Tea Party would like to imagine it, loaded with uplift and glory and scrubbed clean of multiculturalism and social discord. In the world of this movie, strong-willed and independent-minded women like Chenery are ladies first (she's like a classed-up version of Sarah Palin feminism), left-wing activism is an endearing cute phase your kids go through (until they learn the hard truth about inheritance taxes), and all right-thinking Americans are united in their adoration of a Nietzschean Überhorse, a hero so superhuman he isn't human at all.
Now, the fact that director Randall Wallace and screenwriter Mike Rich locate this golden age between 1969 and 1973 might seem at first like a ludicrous joke, if you are old enough (as I am) to halfway remember those years. I'll say that again: The year Secretariat won the Triple Crown was the year the Vietnam War ended and the Watergate hearings began. You could hardly pick a period in post-Civil War American history more plagued by chaos and division and general insanity (well, OK -- you could pick right now). Wallace references that social context in the most glancing and dismissive manner possible -- Penny's eldest daughter is depicted as a teen antiwar activist, in scenes that resemble lost episodes of "The Brady Bunch" -- but our heroine's double life as a Denver housewife and Virginia horse-farm owner proceeds pretty much as if the 1950s had gone on forever. (The words "Vietnam" and "Nixon" are never uttered.)
One shouldn't impute too much diabolical intention to the filmmakers; for all I know, Penny Chenery really did live in an insulated, lily-white bubble of horsey exurban privilege, and took no notice of the country ripping itself apart. But today, in the real world, we find ourselves once again in an enraged and dangerously bifurcated society, and I can't help thinking that "Secretariat" is meant as a comforting allegory, like Glenn Beck's sentimental Christmas yarn: The real America has been here all along, and we can get it back. If we just believe in -- well, in something unspecified but probably pretty scary.