Sylvester (1985) is a PG rated formula sports story.
Not only that, but the sport in question is a
less-than-thrill-a-minute activity, equestrian competition. As one
character says, "It's called dressage. It's like watching cement
Given that, why did I enjoy it so much? Hold that
Melissa Gilbert (from Little House on the Prairie) plays a 16 year
old orphan trying to raise her two young brothers, keep them away
from child protective services, keep her boyfriend at arms' length
but not chase him off, and learn to be a horse trainer. She works
for curmudgeonly alcoholic Richard Farnsworth, who runs the local
stockyard in Martha, Texas. She falls in love with a horse she names
Sylvester, and dreams of training him on her way toward becoming a
famous trainer. For a girl with a lot of heart and natural talent,
but very little experience, reaching her goal will take the help of
everyone in Martha, Texas, especially Farnsworth, who was in the
cavalry and knows horse training.
The plot is padded out by the stock crises: the hired hand who tried
to rape her, the boyfriend who wants to marry her as soon as
possible, the fact that she has picked the prestigious national
trials as her first event, and Farnsworth's excessive drinking,
which reminds her too much of her dead father. Since it's a formula
sports film, you already know that she succeeds, and everyone in the
film finds redemption because of her efforts.
So, again, why did I like it?
The simple answer is that I liked all of the
characters. They were human, with human failings, and were very
believably portrayed. In a genre that I think is usually aimed at
naive adolescent girls, the "girl and her horse" story, they have
created true family entertainment. Gilbert, in her first feature
film, showed amazing range given her Little House training.