Review: ‘Hurley’

Doc about racer Hurley Haywood premieres at Inside Out

5 mins read

(USA, 82 min.)
Dir. Derek Dodge

Cars and manliness often go hand in hand. Think Steve McQueen taming a Mustang Bullitt, James Bond saving the world and scoring chicks from behind the wheel of his Aston Martins and BMWs, or Tom Cruise revving motors in Days of Thunder. A man who packs a good engine makes the ladies go vroom vroom in popular culture and few items symbolize an idea of masculinity as much as a car does. Whose dad didn’t buy a new car when he turned 50?

Derek Dodge’s Hurley deconstructs the perceived relationship between cars and masculinity with its revealing portrait of 1970s racing icon Hurley Haywood. Haywood’s accomplishments as a motorist include five victories at 24 Hours of Daytona, three triumphs at Le Mans, and far too many wins at other circuits and races to list outside of Wikipedia.

Hurley shows Haywood a master behind the wheel as he navigates the circuit in his signature Porsches—the object of many aging fathers’ envy. Decaled in sponsorship branding from Penthouse, sometimes in the form of a centrefold model linked to his arm on the podium—another object of many men’s envy—he might look like the hallmark of motocross manliness. Appearances, however, are deceiving. Haywood is finally ready to come out and reveal his true self after decades of living in the spotlight and closet alike.

Haywood, now 70, admits in an interview with Dodge that this film marks the first public declaration of his sexuality. This confession makes Hurley as sad as it is empowering. The doc invites Haywood to reflect upon being a closeted gay while driving in a sport of hyper-masculinity. It also asks audiences to consider the happiness withheld from Haywood and other queer celebrities. There is little remorse in Haywood’s candid interview, but much resigned acceptance that the nature of the game denied him the right to come out and properly enjoy the spotlight.

Many of the talking heads in Hurley remark on how difficult it must have been for Haywood to conceal his personal life while excelling on the racetrack. His sister speaks of a conservative upbringing, while actor/racer Patrick Dempsey comments admiringly upon Haywood’s legacy. Dodge’s interviewees reiterate observations on the gendered nature of auto racing and the manufactured image of masculinity it presented to sell tickets and sponsorships. Even at a brisk 82-minutes, Hurley circles the same track several times.

The film features some speculation on whether Haywood was involved with his racing partner and mentor Peter Gregg, which proves problematic when the latter isn’t present to speak for himself. Many of the talking heads say that Gregg would have been a master of disguise if he were gay. They agree that racing and the pressures of the spotlight hurt him by keeping him in a different closet: that which prevents someone from seeking help for mental illness. Hurley doesn’t conflate mental illness with homosexuality as it reveals details of Gregg’s suicide in 1980; rather, it brings the film to a cathartic climax as Haywood relates to the awful feeling of isolation and despair. He uses his story and the tragedy of his late mentor to encourage others to find comfort in speaking up.

The film, unfortunately, doesn’t change gears to ask if and how coming out could have shaped the game and the industry, but Haywood’s tale is not unique among sports stars. The film invites the new generation of racers to wave the flag with pride, be it chequered or rainbow striped.

Hurley has its world premiere at Inside Out on May 28.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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