Director: Simon Curtis
Cast: Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Baker, Martin Donovan, Gary Cole, Kevin Costner
Screenplay: Mark Bomback
109 mins. Rated PG for thematic material.
I’m not really sure who came up with the dog-narrates-the-movie subgenre of film, but it’s a little weird, right?
The Art of Racing in the Rain, from director Simon Curtis (Goodbye Christopher Robin, Woman in Gold) is the story of a dog named Enzo (Kevin Costner, The Postman, The Highwaymen) and his owner Denny (Milo Ventimiglia, Creed II, TV’s Heroes). Denny is a GT race driver, but when he isn’t racing, he’s hanging out with Enzo, a racer at heart who loves him unconditionally. Enzo recounts his life, and all the ups and downs of his and Denny’s journey together.
I went into this one with pretty low expectations. This subgenre just doesn’t really do it for me, and I find that most of these films have the same general story outline. I was pleasantly surprised, though, with The Art of Racing in the Rain. It’s very imperfect, but I found that I was so invested in Denny’s story that the Enzo narration and inclusion really only helped it along that path, and I was enthralled to see where it would end up.
It’s also the type of movie that I needed to see when I went to it. I hadn’t planned for Denny’s story to inspire me in the way it did. It’s not a fun movie at all. In fact, Denny’s story is full of tough moments, and it is in that way that the relationship between human and pet is really well-examined. I felt included, too, as a pet owner, even though my pet of choice is a cat. Unlike many of these films, where the dog is seen as heroic and there’s always an angry antagonistic cat, I felt like The Art of Racing in the Rain is about the bond between humans and animals and not so specific a pet as just saying it’s about dogs. It’s a movie about bonds.
The screenplay, by Mark Bomback (Total Recall, War for the Planet of the Apes) is nicely put together, with a few small problems littered throughout it. There’s some dialogue in the film from narrator Enzo that comes off as strange and unusual without much elaboration. Being someone who has not read the source material, I’m sure it was explained and made more sense in the book, but in the film it just didn’t translate all that well. There’s also this inclusion of the zebra scenes, which I found didn’t translate well either. I know, that already sounds silly, but let me explain. There are several scenes in the finished film that center around Enzo’s fear of a stuffed zebra toy at the house. He goes so far as to call it a demon, and I think that it kind of works with one exception, a dream sequence in which the zebra toy comes to life, something that looks absolutely silly in a section of the movie that it supposed to be very silly.
I’ve been a fan of Milo Ventimiglia’s since Heroes and I really liked him in the film, and I think the chemistry between his character and Eve (Amanda Seyfried, Les Misérables, Gringo) was particularly strong. In fact, the principle cast of the film does some admirable work even throughout some of the more melodramatic story beats, and overall, I don’t think any of them failed to convey the story.
Although, I will say the best performance in the film comes from Kevin Costner narrating Enzo’s story. This should have been something that I kept thinking about in my head. “Kevin Costner is voicing a dog…Kevin Costner is voicing a dog.” I was never once taken out of the film due to that, and I think it’s a tougher sell than anything else in this film, especially when comparing the way Enzo sees Denny as a father figure and yet Kevin Costner is much older than Milo Ventimiglia. It all worked for me quite well.
The Art of Racing in the Rain is imperfect, but even throughout all that, it’s probably the best film is this trend of dog-narration movies. I liked all the actors and voice work and the script accomplishes a lot of things that I didn’t expect to work. There’s some bumps along the way but overall this was a more impressive film than I expected. Now, I don’t think everyone will share in my thoughts about the film. It just happened to be the perfect film for what I needed on the day I saw it. The theater staff should be handing out free Kleenex for this one.
-Kyle A. Goethe