- Movie Rating -

Heart Like a Wheel (1983)

| April 1, 1983

Going into Heart Like a Wheel, I knew next to nothing about Shirley “Cha-Cha” Muldowney, the first woman to break the gender barrier in the professional drag racing, and when the movie was over, I wasn’t entirely sure that I had really gotten to know her at all.

I learned a bit about Muldowney’s career in preparing for the movie.  I know that she was the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association and won the Top Fuel Championship three times.  She has routinely been credited as being one of the top drivers of all time, and has been inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.  I see this, and it makes for an interesting read. I just wish it made for a more involving movie.

Maybe that has something to do with the approach.  Heart Like a Wheel is presented and packaged at the absolute base level with all the cliches intact, all the plot pieces lined up and without any real human insight.  The movie moves exactly the way that it is suppose to and rarely moves off the track, so to speak.

The movie stars Bonnie Bedelia as Muldowney, a tough woman swimming in a sea of men who are bull-headed, chauvinistic, hate women and persistently dismiss any notion that she can compete in an area that is completely dominated by men.  This despite her successful rise through the ranks and her routine habit of breaking records.  Her record on the track is impressive, but where the movie slows down is when it tries to deal with her personal life, her various relationships with men, all of which are absolutely glued to her career on the track.

It was hard to get involved here.  Yes, we want to see a woman overcome prejudice, but where is the lifestyle.  What is the excitement of drag racing?  What does it mean to her outside of gaining her independence?  What is so exciting about this sport that lasts nine seconds?  What is driving her?

I saw Muldowney in this film as a fixture, as an example of male stubbornness, as a woman who had to fight and claw her way to the top, but where is the person?  Where is the inward life?  Where are spontaneous moments?  Who is this woman?  What are her motivations?  I kept waiting for the movie to answer these questions.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1983) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Drama