The movie The Art of Racing in the Rain is based on the 2008 novel of the same name by Garth Stein and is the most schmaltzy movie of the summer, maybe the year. But don’t let that deter you. Sometimes, and in this case, schmaltz is good.
Here we have a story, that barely deals with racing, told in flashbacks and narrated by a dying Golden Retriever named Enzo, (voiced by Oscar winner Kevin Costner). Throughout the movie, Enzo shares thoughts about the life experiences which prepared him to protect his family in times of greatest need. And, oh boy, are some of those situations heavy.
The humans in the story, Denny (Milo Ventimiglia, TV’s This Is Us), Eve (Amanda Seyfried) and Zoe (young Zoe is played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong, who will be seen in It: Chapter 2, and teenage Zoe is played by Lily Dodsworth-Evans), are seemingly all one big, happy family. Denny is an aspiring Formula One race car driver, who often puts his career ahead of his family. Eve is a stay-at-home mom, devoted to her husband and daughter. Denny’s in-laws, played by Gary Cole and Kathy Baker (one of the world’s greatest living and underappreciated actresses), and nicknamed “the Twins” by Enzo, have ideas of their own when it comes to Denny’s lack of attention to their daughter and granddaughter. If this were a Disney film, (actually, it is, now that 20th Century Fox, the film’s distributor, is owned by Disney), the in-laws would be the requisite evil characters; think witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, evil stepmother in Cinderella, Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians, etc. And evil they are, trying gain full custody of their granddaughter.
Through it all, Enzo is there for Denny, for Eve and for Zoe. Even after being forgotten at home alone for a few days, with no food, and only a toilet bowl to drink from, and a room full of Zoe’s stuffed animals.
According to the film’s director, Simon Curtis (Goodbye, Christopher Robin), “Racing is a metaphor. Denny and Enzo want to find a way to apply the lessons of the racetrack to help them navigate the complexities of real life.”
Regarding writing a story about a philosopher dog, Garth Stein says, “A lot of that came from the Mongolian concept of reincarnation. But it’s an outsider’s story. It’s based upon the idea that a dog, being a disinterested character, would make judgments about the world he sees. And how maybe people could improve their lives if they just thought a little more about the implications of their actions.”
The cinematographer, Ross Emery, who worked on all three The Matrix movies, did an incredible job with this film. While The Art of Racing in the Rain could have benefited from some major editing, and trimmed to clock in at 90 minutes, rather than nearly two hours, it still is a winner. While most critics will pan this film, (proving that there is a huge divide between most critics and those who pay to see movies in theaters), audiences are going to eat it up, especially when it arrives on Home Entertainment just in time for the holidays.
Whether you’re a dog lover, a cat lover, or don’t aren’t an animal person at all, you’d have to have a heart of stone and ice running through your veins if this film doesn’t tug at your heartstrings and put a smile on your face at the very end.
The Art of Racing in the Rain Review by Tim Nasson