Small Dreams on the Big Screen

Toni Collette in “Dream Horse”

I’m not an equestrian or from Wales. I’m not from NYC or Latinx. I’m not even a big fan of musicals! I AM a fan of stories about achieving your dreams. “Dream Horse” is based on a true story of how one woman’s dream of owning a race horse rallied a small Welsh village and gave them all a sense of pride. “In the Heights” is a collection of small dreams writ large for the big screen and powered by Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s songs. There may have been controversy over the casting but for most of the audiences, this will be a celebration of multicultural dreams. Both films give us a look at close-knit communities that work hard to support each other. United, dreams can be fought for…united, dreams can be achieved.

Screening in cinemas or streaming on multiple platforms ($19.99), “Dream Horse” (Directed by Euros Lyn) stars Toni Collette. Jan Volkes is the embodiement of a work horse. She’s glumly scanning groceries in her day job and wearily wiping bar tables in her night job. Her husband has retreated from life to sit watching the telly all day and she’s desperate to find a spark of joy. The transformation of her life and her village as they find a foal to suppport financially and emotionally, is heart-warming. The setting in Wales amid chip shops and pubs, lends an authencity and fuels the urgency to succeed. There’s humor in the juxtaposition of the villagers joining the ranks of the tony crowd of well-dressed owners at the racetrack. One character who seems to be the town drunk, is featured prominently for comic effect. The montage of each character getting ready for race day is delightful. I found myself on the edge of my seat rooting for the horse and for the these individuals who’ve all found a new purpose in life. Stay for the credits where the actors are joined by their real-life counterparts in a song and dance.

Drink with films rating: 2 1/2 pints of beer in your local pub with all your chums (out of 5)

Will it be “the movie of the summer?”

Streaming on HBO Max and in wide release in cinemas, there’s been controversy over the casting of “In the Heights” (Directed by Jon M Chu). Lin-Manuel Miranda’s apology on Twitter has created a conversation and hopefully, an education for people. I would guess that not many audience members would’ve thought about the fact that Washington Heights is home to many of Afro-Latino persuasion. The lighter-skinned actors who shine in the film may not do justice to those of Dominican heritage and some of the rebuffs of those criticism of colorism have not gone over well. Having a big budget film in theaters and critics pointing out the “white washing” of the cast, draws attention to the work that must still be done. While we celebrate the wonderful multicultural stories told in “In the Heights”, it’s a good reminder that these characters aren’t just Latinx but also Afro-Latinx.

“In the Heights” focuses on a small community of friends and family to tell the story of dreams deferred and dreams achieved. I could’ve used less dancing and more focus on each story. I felt the hair salon thread was given short shrift. And the story may have been better served to showcase different people in their own lives singing about what they’d do with $96.000, even as I enjoyed the fun choreography at the public pool. It’s hard to resist the production number (reminscient of “La La Land”) to show love’s ability to transport the young couple—as if gravity no longer exists for them. The story is inventive and absorbing. The frenetic pace can let you feel as if you’re part of the action and the moments of quiet conversation allow you to absorb the emotions of characters facing what seem to be insurmountable challenges: racism, poverty, and death of a loved one. The ending is a beautiful surprise and tribute to the creative force that can arise out of the pressures of struggle.

Drinks with films rating: 3 1/2 rum drinks enjoyed on a sweltering summer day (out of 5)

Both films can be streamed at home. I can’t judge anyone for wanting to enjoy a long film (2 hours, 23 minutes) like “In the Heights” from the comfort of their own couch. I’m not sure that a musical that is big on spectacle with splashy (literally) song and dance numbers will translate as well. Certainly, the smaller moments that are the heart of the film–conversations between characters that let the stories breath, those will still resonate on your TV. For “Dream Horse”, with it’s less frenetic pacing and singular story, it’s the sound design that elevates the film into a pulse-quickening race to the finish. I hope that audiences will seek both films out at the cinema.

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