Heart Like a Wheel (1983) Poster

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Moving story about an unusual woman
trpdean16 October 2002
This is one of those rare performances in which you fall in love with the actress. Bonnie Bedelia was apparently nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actress for her performance as Shirley Muldowney - she should have won an Oscar.

Whether or not you care anything about drag racing - I don't - this is just as much a movie about an unusual, sweet but driven, woman through two decades. It's really tops.

The only criticism I have is that the movie lets the character off rather lightly for abandoning her husband and child after a fight over whether she should be gone from home throughout the year. The truth is that it must be terribly difficult for someone not in the industry to keep a marriage going - including parenthood of a 12 year old - with someone who wants to be gone throughout the year and throughout the country. At one point, Beau Bridges accuses her of abandoning her husband due to ambition - and I suspect there may be more in the accusation than the movie allows the viewer to believe (since Beau Bridges at that point is behaving pretty awfully).

Still, Bonnie Bedelia is so charming, sweet, pretty, winning in every way - that the viewer does nothing but cheer her success.

This is very enjoyable.
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One to watch
Inuendo31 March 2002
This film is a great representation of the true story of Shirley Cha Cha Muldowney. Drag racing enthusiasts will love it for the cars and it's true story and general film lovers will like it for it's story about the first female racer to break into this male dominated sport. Not only did she do that but she dominated it in the late seventies and early eighties. I first saw this film at the age of 11 at a custom car show in Leeds, England and it was a real eye opener to the sport.
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It's not about the cars, it's about the woman
spratton28 July 2010
A gem. Pretty much ignored when it came out, because the industry tried to push it as a "hot rod movie" which it is not. Bonnie Bedelia gives a brilliant performance (apparently race folks who knew Muldowney believed she appeared as herself in a couple of scenes!). Film and TV seldom succeed in portraying auto racing; but that doesn't matter here because it doesn't pretend to. The movie has the same spirit as BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM; a young woman facing down family and society in order to fight and win in her chosen field. At the end, you will want to pump your fist and cheer, the way I saw a cinema audience do for the recent Beckham piece. Also, some quite heart-piercing moments when Muldowney's ambition and drive and hard shell fall apart from love and betrayal. Beau Bridges loves his role as a boozy cynical scoundrel, and what fun singer Hoyt Axton must have had doing his thing. 1960 out on the Depot Road near Schenectady --- that's what it was like!
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Wins you right over
Nozz1 January 2000
The last thing that interests me is auto racing, so when this popped up on the TV channel I was watching, I figured I'd turn it off as soon as I was sure the opening credits promised nothing intriguing. I was drawn into the movie immediately, though, and it held me all the way through. I still don't care about auto racing, but... shh... the movie is really about people.
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Shirley's Soapy-But-Startling Story
ccthemovieman-115 March 2006
This a pretty interesting based-on-a-true life-story of hot-rod racer Shirley Muldowney. Bonnie Bedalia plays the woman who was a pioneer of her sorts, becoming the first female star in the sport. Whether her life was one big soap opera, I don't know, but the movie concentrates on that sort of thing....with a feminist bias, of course.

I didn't mid the latter because she had to fight a lot of obstacles to become the first female star of drag racing. However, the constant arguments with her husband (a very profane Leo Rossi) and then with crew chief-former lover Connie Kallitta (Beau Bridges) wore thin after awhile. This was just before the PG-13 rating was put into effect, so it's rated PG which is ludicrous with all the profanity.

One very, very memorable scene in here: Muldowney on fire, stumbling down the racetrack after her car caught on fire. That was horrifying and a scene I've never forgotten, and I first saw this almost 20 years ago. Other that that, it's a so-so story and better than so-so if you don't let the language bother you.
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Excellent racetrack drama with a terrific performance by Bonnie Bedelia
Woodyanders18 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Bonnie Bedelia delivers a fiery, roughly textured, outstanding performance in a rare substantial lead role as Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney, the gutsy, sassy ("The only thing I do fast is drive"), willful, supremely determined and self-sufficient real-life pioneering feminist professional race car driver who had to overcome lots of doubt, discrimination and sexual prejudice during her arduous climb to bona fide race car champion status, winning the much-coveted NHRA Top Fuel World Championship an unprecedented three times in a row.

Directed with customary acuity and facility by Jonathan Kaplan, this sterling sports biopic stands out not so much for what it does but for what it doesn't do. For starters, the film never glorifies its very appealing, but still quite human and fallible heroine, offering instead an evenly balanced, fully rounded, warts-and-all portrait of Muldowney, whose remarkable success on the racetrack is countered by her often shaky and unfulfilling personal life. Shirley's victories come at the cost of her marriage to decent, but insecure automobile mechanic Jack (skillfully etched by Leo Rossi, who manages to create genuine sympathy for a potentially unlikeable character) and thrust her into a tumultuous romantic relationship with arrogant, sexist, philandering rival driver Connie Kalitta (an excellent Beau Bridges). Still, Ken Friedman's astute, daring and forthright script gives Shirley her just due for bravely breaking down restrictive sexual barriers, refusing to buckle under often intimidating odds, and triumphantly besting men in a largely male-dominated sport. Secondly, the film doesn't go overboard with either the racetrack action or evocation of previous decades (Shirley began her professional drag racing career back in the mid 60's and kept on racing into the early 80's), rightly emphasizing a most rewarding and uplifting tale of how sheer iron will and tenacity play a huge role in how successful one is in life.

While Bedelia surely dominates the film with her exceptional characterization, the rest of the cast definitely hold their own: Anthony Edwards as Shirley's proud, caring son, Hoyt Axton as Shirley's supportive country-and-western singer father, Bill McKinney as a cocky drag racing superstar, Dick Miller as an understanding family friend, Paul Bartel as a pompous French TV show chef, Michael Cavanaugh as a jerky NHRA boss, and Jonathan Haze as a smooth racetrack announcer are all uniformly fine. Tak Fujimoto's crisp, elegant, proficient cinematography and Laurence Rosenthal's jaunty score add authentic flavor to the movie's meticulous recreation of past eras and equally minutely detailed depiction of the vibrant, smoky, harshly competitive racetrack milieu. The racing scenes are vivid, thrilling and atmospheric; the wipe-out sequences are shockingly abrupt and harrowing. However, it's the tremendous accomplishments of the extraordinary Shirley Muldowney (she served as creative consultant on this movie) and Bonnie Bedelia's superlative portrayal which make this film a true winner all the way.
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Monika-55 March 2000
Bonnie Bedelia turns in an outstanding performance as female drag racer Shirley Muldowney. The cars, music and clothes are right on for the time period. The film is filled with the struggles Shirley went through to juggle a racing career and still be a good wife and mother. Don't miss this movie!
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Great Film
mkt431117 August 2006
I saw this movie when it was shown in theaters back in 1983. It is without a doubt a great film due, in large part, to Bonnie Bedelia's performance. Heart Like A Wheel is by far her finest film, and she deserved an Academy Award nomination. The bonus material, on the 2006 DVD release, is interesting enough. Muldowney's derogatory remarks on Bedelia were uncalled for, especially in light of the critical praise she has received for her role. Jonathan Kaplan's comments painted a much different picture of Bedelia's work ethic. Make sure you watch the film at least once with Kaplan's commentary; it is the best bonus feature and very entertaining.
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Great depiction of Shirley Muldowney's life and early career.
dunnin200417 December 2004
I have been a Shirley Muldowney fan forever and this is a wonderful movie. It is very accurate and the actor's portrayals are great. If you have ever been around the races and pits, you will realize that it is right on. I have forced many of my non-racing fan and non-Shirley fan friends to watch this movie and the majority of them all thought that it was a great movie and most say they would watch again.

For those of you that don't like racing, or have never heard of Shirley Muldowney, it is a great movie to show the struggle that women had/have fitting in to the so called "man's world." The fact that it is set in an overwhelmingly male field makes it even more interesting. As stated above, I have been a fan of Shirley's for years, and I have always stated that she is my idol. Everyone laughs when I say this, but I have always come away with - if Shirley managed to make it in drag racing, I can make it in (fill in the blank). Great movie.
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Decent biopic about a woman racer.
Blueghost20 November 2017
This was another HBO-fodder summer movie that I would catch either after school or on the weekend. I don't remember too much about it other than it was exceptionally well shot, had some A-list talent in the cast, and it reminded me of my time at the local raceway.

It's a bit of a slow movie, some drama that may or may not have taken liberty with Shirley Muldowney's real story, and overall a bit of a sleeper of a film. I don't recall it getting a lot of promotion on TV before it hit cable, and to be honest I don't recall it ever playing in the local theatres. But it was a decent enough movie to see once or twice.

The 60s and 70s was a time when the women's movement was trying to re-assert female participation in what had become largely a male only world. The film shows some of the sexist barriers she faced, and her interpersonal struggles with her own crew and competition.

I can't say I was a big drag racing fan, and I didn't know too much about her until I saw the movie. The film helped bring her to the fore front for a brief amount of time to non-drag racers (though you did hear about her on occasion on the radio).

The film itself has that mid-range budget feel. It's a bit raw, but still has a good professional gloss to it.

Check it out.
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Great dramatic piece of work
lapratho23 May 2017
Great acting, direction, and camera work. Bonnie Bedelia is outright spooky with her resemblance of the real Shirley Muldowney. While this movie keeps you glued to the screen from start to finish and does have plenty of action, it is not one of those obnoxious special effects flicks that give me a headache with all the non-stop shouting and jiggle-camera that make me sea-sick. Instead, it satisfies an audience with brains. This is a great movie about racing and also delivers some sharp social comment. It begins with a flashback to one of those exciting key moments in childhood and never lets up with keeping the story interesting to the end. Aside from gorgeously done racing scenes, it wrestles real problems that women face to this day, as I witnessed them growing up as the son of a divorced mother. Just reading some comments in other reviews right here shows that sexism is alive and well, so there are lessons and thoughts to mull over for everybody. This is well worth watching!
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it wasn't a magic carpet ride to the top, but it didn't stop her from going!
tdrish20 October 2016
This is the true story of Shirley MulDowney, an iconic 1960's female drag racer who was not only bound and determined to be the first woman drag racer, her heart was set on being the best of the best, and that meant winning! It's what she wants to do, it's who she wants to be, and no obstacle stands a chance of standing in the path of her dreams, she wants to be number one. The road to get there, however, is going to be a little bumpy. She's going to endure many hardships, including her family, not to mention some of the other male drag racers that try to shun her, just because the mob mentality says that only men can be drag racers. Says who? Jonathan Kaplan is an excellent director, he does a fine job directing this early 80's film. It's a a little unbalanced, but full on emotional and most certainly inspiring, Heart Like A Wheel is a classic for anyone who thinks that their dreams are just a little out of reach. Take it from Shirley, if you want something bad enough, it's yours!
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Cha Cha
bkoganbing15 May 2016
Bonnie Bedelia got her career role in this biographical study of Shirley Ann Muldowney aka Cha Cha who became the first female drag racing champion. She cracked a lot of glass ceilings and this film is particularly good viewing as another woman is poised to crack the biggest glass ceiling of them all this year.

There were a lot of heartaches on the way for Muldowney, the break up of her marriage where her husband Leo Rossi felt relegated to the sidelines in his role reversal as her mechanic. There was also an affair with another drag racing champion played by Beau Bridges.

Bedelia is just wonderful in a role where she gradually ages almost 20 years and she's convincing at all stages of her life. She gets good support from her supporting cast. Special mention should go out to Leo Rossi who has a complex role as the husband who is never made a stereotypical alpha male. No trace of a Donald Trump like character is found in his performance. Also country singer Hoyt Axton does well as Bedelia's father.

I think more than drag racing fans will like Heart Like A Wheel which got an Oscar nomination for costume design.
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What's a beautiful girl like you doing at a racetrack like this?
tieman646 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The 1980s saw the release of a number of American "women's pictures", most of which were informed by subtle social changes (in 1981, American laws eliminating of all forms of discrimination against women came into effect) and most of which saw strong-willed women battling against the odds.

One such film was 1983's "Heart Like a Wheel", the tale of drag racing legend Shirley Muldowney. Played by actress Bonnie Bedelia, Muldowney's a female drag racer who finds herself belittled and berated by sexist drivers, all of whom deem the racetrack to be "no place for women". Muldowney stands her ground, of course, and kicks down doors of discrimination in her own little way.

Fittingly, "Heart Like a Wheel" opens with a father informing his daughter that he wishes for her to be "self-reliant and not dependent on men". The rest of the film finds Muldowney locked in various power struggles, both within her marriage and with others racers, one of whom is infectiously played by actor Beau Bridges. As is typical of such films, most men in the picture are portrayed as philanders, drunks, jealous types or irrational hot-heads. Ironically, racing movies prior to the eighties (see 1969's "Winning" in particular) had begun to critique macho obsessions with winning, possessions and dominance. By the time "Heart Like a Wheel" came around, the on-screen male driver had already been neutered. He would be rehabilitated come the late 1980s, an insecure backlash against a perceived loss of male privilege. Muldowney, incidentally, was the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association, and would be dubbed The First Lady of drag racing.

7.5/10 – Worth one viewing. See "Downhill Racer".
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Fast Woman
rmax30482325 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Bonny Bedelia is Shirley Muldowney, a woman from New York state who becomes an award-winning drag racer. I don't know what formula the cars belong to but it's easy to recognize the formula of the movie.

If there's a formulaic moment that isn't included, I must have blinked. Bedelia shows an early interest in getting into the seat of the queer-looking dragster her husband, Leo Rossi, has built as a kind of hobby. But she proves to be a pretty good driver and as she wins an increasing number of contests locally she begins to neglect what Rossi sees as her wifely duties.

All the men at the race track seem to make fun of her, as does the announcer over the PA system.

Meanwhile, there's another man, Beau Bridges, a fellow driver. He's a happy-go-lucky, affable fellow, and I thought at first that he would become one of those saviors who shows up from time to time to rescue the damsel from some crisis before disappearing again until the next crisis, but actually he plays a more important role as the lover she acquires after leaving her husband.

And, man, does Leo Rossi deserve leaving. The script turns him into a Formula I masculine villain. Jealous of his wife's success, jealous of her celebrity and talent, he begins to drink excessively and pretty soon we have the drunken, wife-abusing husband. So she leaves him and flees to the welcoming arms of the more understanding Bridges. When Bridges is suspended from driving, she makes him her crew chief.

Sadly, Bridges is already married but that doesn't stop Bedelia from falling in love with him. The fact that she's not the only "other woman" in his life does manage to shake her a bit, though it doesn't stop her from going on to the ultimate triumph.

The men in her life are all weaklings and brutes but she prevails through the strength of her will and her love of driving cars at high speed. Well, I suppose Bedelia's father is not a bad guy, but he's there chiefly to provide the funeral that interrupts her rise to fame. You never know. Tragedy may lie just around the corner.

The thought kept occurring to me: How easy it would be to turn Shirley "Cha Cha" Muldowney into an exploitative and self-indulgent witch. It would still be "based on a true story" if she were to be possessed by hubris to the extent that she outgrew her schlub of a husband in New York and left him flat for a man, Bridges, who would be of more use to her. If it breaks up his marriage, so what? She needs him for her crew chief and lover.

But it's not that kind of movie. Not at all. It's the story of a woman who succeeds despite all the obstacles strewn in her path by an arrogant patriarchal society. She's propelled by her love of drag racing, although there is curiously little attention paid to her feelings about driving. There IS plenty of footage about the drag races themselves. Engines are noisily gunned; cars burn rubber and often crack up or burst into flaming comets without the bother of any noisome explanations. That, presumably, is to keep the men in the audience from falling asleep during the prolonged romantic conflicts. The races have little drama because, after all, drag races only last a few seconds.

The musical score is mostly of the period and people who grew up in the 60s and 70s should enjoy the pop songs. Before, during, and after Bedelia's triumphs on the track, the score turns airily inspirational, lacking only a heavenly choir.

I rather enjoyed it the first time I saw it, but I was younger then and my heart may have been more like a wheel. Now it looks dated and in some ways irritatingly generic. It's one of those "Firsts" movies. Lindbergh was the first to fly the Atlantic solo, so there's a movie about him. There's a June Allyson movie about one of the first women doctors. There's a movie about the first African-American to graduate from West Point, a movie about the first American astronauts, about the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, about Columbus, about the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air, about the first man to get the idea of the intermittent windshield wiper. This is about the first woman to achieve national recognition as a drag racer.

No problem with Bonny Bedelia's performance, though. She's more than good enough in a stereotyped role. Leo Rossi certainly looks right as the envious husband. Bill McKinney can be seen briefly as a more than usually easy-going King Of The Track. And Dick Miller, he of the jutting chin, is always welcome.
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Pretty good!
grahamsj38 March 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This is the story (more or less) about the rise of Top Fuel drag racing legend Shirley Muldowney. It stars Bonnie Bedelia as Muldowney, who is trying to break into what was a man's sport. She encountered chauvinistic men who were either outright opposed to her racing or were condescending, many considering her nothing more than eye candy. One man, Connie Kalitta, played by Beau Bridges, believed she could make it against the men. He became her sponsor and lover. The relationship was a tempestuous one and it didn't last but it got her started. Once she began to beat the men, they began to respect her as a driver and a person. She went on to win many races and, eventually, 3 Top Fuel championships. She survived a horrible crash and fire but climbed right back into a car as soon as she could. Shirley has since mostly retired from racing and now runs only a few match races each year. But she left a legacy and inspiration for women drivers in various motorsports that endures today.
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"The one that Oscar missed! Warning: Spoilers
"Firstly, let me say this... in no time in the History of the Academy Awards has a major Film such as "Heart Like a Wheel" been so grossly overlooked. I don't know what happened with this one.. maybe there was no decent advertising, maybe 20th Century got nervous because of the subject matter and tried to hide the Film upon release or maybe and more likely is that the Voters of the Academy did not hear of or screen this film. Its a rotten damn shame, because Bonnie B. performance is unquestionably one of the greatest of all time! Tour de Force is not enough.. its simply taking a role and eating it alive! As important as Sally Field's "Norma Rae" was, Heart Like a Wheel proves that women can dominate not only in American Society but on the Silver Screen. Bridges is outstanding as a aggressive, violent and womanizing Connie Kalita. Even if you hate drag racing, see this film. Back to Oscar; the film did receive a Nomination for Best Costume Design, so I will give credit where credit is due. Rosenthal's original mysterious synth score is intriguing and haunts you well after leaving the theater. There is some ground-breaking sound here.. hopefully somebody smart will come along and re-digitize this soundtrack into a surround mix but the score is in Dolby. Jonathan Kaplan's Direction is quirky, not the best ever, but a fine job never-the-less. This is a subject matter that you have to have at least some knowledge of going into it and I think the Director did. I don't know if Shirley M. was actually on-set, didn't see a Tech Credit but I assume she may have been. Bonnie is sensational in this roller coaster, quarter mile of burning rubber emotional ride of a real-life courageous and abused woman. Enter woman into man's sport issues for the first time and all hell break loose when track records fall. Shades of modern-day racers such as Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher are reminders that women continue to fight for their rights to not only have a chance to play the game but to win! Heart Like a Wheel wins in every single frame of film and is without question, the Film that somehow Oscar missed!
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