The Art Of Racing In The Rain

The life of racing driver Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia) as witnessed by Enzo, the golden retriever he bought as a puppy. A courtship, a marriage, a birth, a tragedy, all filtered through the gaze of one man’s best friend.

By Ian Freer | Posted 16 days ago

You can see why the logline for Garth Stein’s 2008 novel, The Art Of Racing In The Rain, must have excited Fox 2000 executives. In short, it’s Marley & Me with racing cars, mixing a loveable pooch, family tragedy and high-speed, four-wheel action with the added gimmick of telling its story through the eyes of a beloved pet, relayed in Kevin Costner’s faux wise voiceover. Unfortunately, despite the odd bright spot, Simon Curtis’ film manages to squander the opportunities the premise suggests, leaving a disappointing plod through endless life lessons.

Part of the problem is that the story our canine commentator tells and comments on is, for the first two thirds, devoid of conflict. After promising racing driver Denny Swift (Ventimiglia) picks Enzo out as a puppy, the dog (played by two-year-old Parker, then eight-year-old Butler) watches over Denny’s stop-start career as a racing driver, which takes a back seat when Eve (Seyfried) comes into the picture (in a nice bit of texture, their first date takes place at a Soundgarden tribute act). For a stretch the film becomes a movie about Enzo’s jealousy of Eve until baby Zoe enters the picture, with Eve’s parents (Kathy Baker, Martin Donovan) showing unease at Denny’s chosen profession. Save Enzo’s antagonism towards a toy zebra, nothing of import has happened until a personal tragedy hits the family, which morphs the film into a whole different genre — the custody battle melodrama.

Curtis’ filmmaking runs to a fun use of a dog-cam POV and the brief race scenes are exciting. But, not helped by a strangely soporific performance from This Is Us’ Ventimiglia, the film gives you no time or space to connect with characters. This is mostly because The Art Of Racing In The Rain is slathered with wall-to-wall insights from the pooch. From musing on the idea dogs are reincarnated as humans gleaned from watching documentaries about Mongolia, to cod philosophy about Ayrton Senna (there are far too many motor-racing metaphors at play here), the loquacious Lassie delivers Casino levels of voiceover which even the warmth and gravitas in Kevin Costner’s voice can’t get you through. However cute Enzo is, the notion of a dog so preternatural he can comprehend the notion of reincarnation or identify important court papers to chew on raises so many logic problems that you’ll leave the cinema with questions rather than happy tears.

There is the odd funny moment, but The Art Of Racing In The Rain relies too heavily on the charms of its golden retriever. It might be built on the notion that dogs are the wisest of us all, but the end result winds up stupid.