The story starts where it ends, with golden retriever Enzo (Kevin Costner) at the end of his life, lying in a puddle of his own urine and too weak to move. His owner Denny (Milo Ventimiglia) comes home to find him, and this is when Enzo tells us the story of his life…
Denny is a professional racecar driver who stopped at a road-side breeder on his way to a race and bought Enzo, naming the puppy after the founder of Ferrari. Enzo immediately falls in love with race car driving and will spend the rest of his life hoping that one day he’ll be re-born as a human and become a racer.
Flash-forward a few years and Enzo is now a grown dog. Denny meets and falls in love with Eve (Amanda Seyfried) and the two – plus Enzo! – quickly start a family, and soon after their daughter Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is born. Everything is going great for them – except that Eve’s parents (Martin Donovan and Kathy Baker) don’t like Denny and don’t trust he’ll be able to provide for his family given the uncertainty and danger of his career. And then Eve gets sick with cancer and everything in Denny’s world falls apart.
Through the hard times, Enzo keeps the faith – seeing the correlation between the mechanics of racing and life. It’s just a shame that he can’t speak to relay this Tao of Racing to the rest of the family he loves dearly.
Based on Garth Stein’s best-selling novel and adapted for the screen by Mark Bomback (Insurgent, The Wolverine, the new Planet of the Apes movies), The Art of Racing in the Rain is capably directed by Simon Curtis (Goodbye Christopher Robin, My Week With Marilyn) with cinematography by Ross Emery (The Giver, I, Frankstein, The Wolverine).
I went into this movie completely expecting to be bored and on the verge of sleep. Just from the trailers alone it looked like just another talking / resurrection dog movie like we’ve been seeing so much lately i.e. A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Journey, A Dog’s Way Home, etc. Honestly, these types of dog-centric films usually hold little appeal for me and the only reason I went to see this film was to appease my fiancée who loves this sort of film and was a huge fan of Stein’s novel. I expected to hate it.
I was wrong.
This movie packs an incredible amount of heart. It doesn’t just pull at your heartstrings; it yanks on them with all the Herculean strength of a super-powered Avengers line-up and leaves you an emotionally drained wreck. Resist all you like, but your poor tear ducts don’t stand a chance. No matter how cold-hearted or “manly” you may think you are, I can basically guarantee you’ll be shedding tears on a somewhat regular basis during its 109-minute runtime. Especially in the last 30 minutes. It completely wrecked me.
The acting here is wonderful. Anyone who’s seen This Is Us knows how great Milo Ventimiglia is, and maybe this is the performance that shows Hollywood he can carry feature films with the same strong grace. Amanda Seyfried gives another wonderful performance as well, as we should come to expect this from her. Kevin Costner also does a great job as the voice of the dog Enzo, showing the art of subtlety with just the right amount of inflection to often make the audience laugh at his understatements.
There were times when the story slowed and I thought I might be slipping, but then we’d get right back into either comedy or sorrow and I’d be re-engaged. Perhaps if the movie were 10 minutes tighter, it would have been near-flawless.
While I’m not sure that The Art of Racing in the Rain is a movie that needs to be seen on the big screen, it’s definitely a must-see film for those who A.) love the novel, B.) love similarly-themed dog films or C.) just those who need their deep-rooted sense masculinity challenged (in a good way). Just be careful, especially if you choose to see this in a well-packed theater or with a burly group of manly men, as you’ll learn the real meaning of the word “rain”. Just make sure you’ve got those tissues handy – you’ll need them.