The Art Of Racing In The Rain (USA / PG / 109 mins)
In short: Doggy delight
Directed by Simon Curtis. Starring Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Kevin Costner, Martin Donovan, Kathy Baker.
The Plot: Aspiring Formula 1 racing car driver Denny (Milo Ventimiglia) has been best buddies with his golden retriever dog Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner). The two are inseparable and it’s like they chose each other when they first met. They even share a love of watching Formula 1 on TV. Enzo narrates his observations about the ups and downs of human life, as Denny falls in love with Eve (Amanda Seyfried) and faces the challenges of family life that he hadn’t anticipated. In doing so, Enzo comes to understand that the lessons learned on the racing track can mirror real-life events off the track…
The Verdict: Who doesn’t love a good dog movie? Eye-rolling cynics and cat lovers perhaps, but it would be a hard heart not to be moved by the latest entry, which has the vague, marquee-busting title of The Art Of Racing In The Rain. It’s based on the book by Garth Stein and like other recent entries such as the W. Bruce Cameron adaptations, it allows us to eavesdrop on the dog’s thoughts and narrate his own story. Unlike those other adaptations though, this is a more refined effort which has the requisite moments of family joy and sorrow. It also avoids cloying sentimentality and the overwhelming need to anthropomorphise the dog. The only hint of that is when Denny first meets Eve and describes Enzo as more person than dog. After that, director Simon Curtis moves past it to show a human’s journey through a dog’s eyes.
Given that the story is set in Seattle and starts with a credit to a well-known local coffee franchise (going into film production now?), there was potential for it to involve egregious product placement. Thankfully, it’s kept to a minimum in order to focus on the evolving story of Enzo (named after the inventor of Ferrari). Enzo graciously manages the whirlwind around Denny’s life with new people entering and leaving, including some small people. Mark Bomback’s script veers close to soapy territory here, given that it runs the gamut of human emotions as observed through the wise eyes of Enzo. This old dog still has some new tricks though. If you can look past the human drama, you’ll find a quietly-told observational drama from the dog’s point-of-view, with a strong supporting cast including old pros Martin Donovan and Kathy Baker to elevate the material.
The wild card here is Kevin Costner as the voice of Enzo. It’s an intriguing casting choice, moving away from the bouncy enthusiasm of, say, Josh Gad. In Costner’s gravelly, seasoned but hushed tones, there’s a sense of Enzo living a life rather than just passing through it with his human companions. The film could work without any narration, given how talented and screen-ready the four-legged cast are. Costner brings gravitas to the role though, imbuing Enzo with a semi-humourous take on human life while also giving him personality and depth in his line delivery. Curtis, who also directed My Week With Marilyn and Christopher Robin, keeps the focus firmly on Enzo and Denny throughout to a poignant close. Yeah, eye-rolling cynics and cat lovers beware – the ending might be too much for you. The Art Of Racing In The Rain is a doggy delight that comfortably races into your heart and does a few victory laps for good measure, moving the material beyond the manipulative and towards something more comfortably palatable.