Sylvester (1985)

25 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The story for “Sylvester” is nothing new. It’s the story of a spunky young woman and her equally gutsy horse. The horse is reckless at first, but maybe it can be trained to become a champion. We’ve seen this before, particularly in “National Velvet” starring Elizabeth Taylor. But “Sylvester” has something going for it, and it’s not in the predictable story; it’s in the actors’ performances and the story around the girl and the horse.

Melissa Gilbert, from TV’s “Little House on the Prairie,” turns in an excellent performance as Charlie, a sixteen-year-old orphan girl who cares for her two younger brothers by herself and works at a ranch. She wants to train horses and wants a challenge. She finds one, all right, in Sylvester Stallone (no, really—that’s what she names the wild horse of the bunch). This is a wild, unruly horse—not the kind of horse you’d see competing in the steeplechase trials.

But hey, maybe…just maybe…Sylvester will be able to do it.

OK, we all know the conflicts at hand here. Charlie has to deal with the court officials concerning her and her brothers living alone; they later live with the farmer who becomes a father figure; the father figure is skeptical about the horse being trained by Charlie; Charlie gets Sylvester in good riding form; and of course, with help from the farmer, her brothers, and her boyfriend, Charlie is able to compete in the steeplechases. We go through the checklist of events.

BUT among the formula and the obligatory scenes that come with it, we still have the pleasure of watching of viewing the actors portraying these characters. Melissa Gilbert is great in this movie—she has a unique star presence and brings conviction to the role of young Charlie. Richard Farnsworth is also great as the grizzled old farmer who takes her and her brothers in, showing more dimensions than we’re used to. Even Michael Schoeffling (“Sixteen Candles”), as the obligatory handsome boyfriend, does a nice job.

The horse is the least interesting element in the movie. He’s just there as a way to get the story and the heroine in the directions they’re supposed to go. But to be fair, I’m glad this isn’t one of those movies where the horse makes everything happy when the girl is sad. The horse isn’t a practically human reincarnate. It’s just a horse. The story isn’t about the horse, despite this horse’s name Sylvester being the title of the movie. It’s about the people this time.

“Sylvester” isn’t particularly original, except for when it’s dealing with Charlie’s issues and the development of the people around her. It is also harmless for kids and I think adults will enjoy the more mature aspects of the story. It’s a nice family film that could have been great, but as it is, it’s a good movie.

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