Is “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” a sweet tearjerker adaptation of the bestselling novel by Garth Stein, worth your date night trip to the movies?
This movie is beautiful to look at. It has an equally beautiful score, relatable characters and a lot of life lessons taught through driving metaphors.
But most of all, it’s a deep yet entertaining reflection on life and death, as seen through the eyes of a loyal dog (voiced with great emotion by Kevin Costner) over a dozen years.
Dogs are widely regarded as man’s best friend, thanks to their innate patience, frequent and wide-ranging shows of affection and incredible loyalty to their human companions. “The Art of Racing in the Rain” portrays the relationship between a professional race-car driver named Denny (Milo Ventimiglia) and his beloved dog Enzo over the course of a dozen years filled with life-changing events.
It might be easy to dismiss this as a kiddie flick at first glance, following other similar films with talking dogs like “A Dog’s Purpose,” but “The Art of Racing in the Rain” covers surprisingly heavy emotional terrain. Denny’s wife battles brain cancer, he has to fight for custody of their young daughter against her parents and Enzo himself faces some potentially tragic moments.
A dog tries to impart its wisdom to the viewer
The movie opens on Enzo lying near death in Denny’s house. He quickly makes it clear he’s narrating the movie and that he’s one very philosophical canine. The film has numerous references to God in the general sense that we all believe in as well. However, Enzo makes it clear that he believes in reincarnation. He believes that he’s at the end of his existences in canine form and preparing to transition into being a human.
But if your religious beliefs aren’t easily swayed by a cinematic dog, this film has plenty of life lessons imparted through racing metaphors. You’ll love the innovative twist that likely makes the lessons stick in your mind.
Enzo quickly shares the day that he was adopted by Denny and started an idyllic life as his constant companion. But when Denny falls in love with Eve (Amanda Seyfried), Enzo worries about falling out of favor with Denny. He has to adjust and learn that there are different kinds of love in life, but all are meaningful.
When Denny and Eve have a young daughter named Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), Enzo has to adjust again. Life gets complicated when Eve comes down with brain cancer while Denny is traveling the world racing circuit. Then, Eve’s parents (Kathy Baker and Martin Donovan) start giving Denny a hard time about the risks he’s undertaking and the time away from his family.
“The Art of Racing in the Rain” will keep adult viewers thoroughly engaged
Enzo takes it all in and, as best he can, guides everyone through the complex problems we all face in life. The results are always moving, often surprising and depicted with great style.
Director Simon Curtis, who has previously directed arty British dramas (“Woman in Gold,” “My Week With Marilyn”), gives the movie a sense of sadness throughout, shot through with an underlying optimism that pays off at key moments.
Ventimiglia is mining the same territory as his multi-Emmy-nominated role on NBC’s family drama “This Is Us,” and fans of that program won’t be disappointed as they’ll find plenty of tears here as well. Seyfried has long charmed moviegoers with her roles in the “Mamma Mia” movies in particular, but she takes on greater depth here as a young mother facing the prospect of possible death.
Through it all, Costner’s voice gives the film incredible gravitas and makes it a moving experience that is innocent enough for kids and families to see together, yet played at an intelligence level that is more for adults. The love story between Eve and Denny is strong and involving, and ensures this is a solid and tasteful date-night choice.
“The Art of Racing in the Rain” is a real gem in the dog days of summer.