David and I both read Garth Stein’s beautiful novel in 2008 which spent three and a half years on The New York Times best seller list. Narrated by Enzo, a regal golden retriever, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” has now, finally, been made into a feature film with better-than-expected results.
Directed by Simon Curtis, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011), WOMAN IN GOLD (2015), with a screenplay by Mark Bomback, THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN stars Milo Ventimiglia as Denny Swift, a race car driver who, on a lark, brings home a golden retriever puppy and names him Enzo after Enzo Ferrari, the founder of the Italian car company.
Voiced by Kevin Costner, Enzo quickly bonds with Denny, realizing he was meant to be his dog, and they become inseparable --- until Denny meets Eve (Amanda Seyfried). Though Denny is immediately smitten, Enzo has his reservations. But all that falls away after Denny and Eve are married and their daughter Zoe enters the world.
This loving family endures a great deal of joy and heartbreak, all of which is told through the eyes of this philosophical canine. Early on in his life, Enzo, who loves to watch TV with Denny, especially car racing, sees a documentary about dogs in Mongolia. A Mongolian legend states if a dog gets “prepared” in this life, when he dies, he will be reincarnated as a human. And this truth-seeking pup is all over that. He is determined to learn as much as he can from Denny, so he can return a man.
Ventimiglia is a great choice to play Denny. He has that certain swagger and he looks like an international race car driver, particularly with that unbelievable head of hair. He does a remarkable job relating to Enzo --- they obviously developed a meaningful bond. And his chemistry with Seyfried is exceptional --- we believe they are a couple deeply in love. Eve is a difficult role, but Seyfried handles the emotions with great depth and honesty.
But let’s face it, the stars of THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN are the two goldens who play Enzo. First there is two-year-old Parker, who is the younger Enzo, and eight-year-old Butler, playing him as an older dog. These two are the consummate professionals, especially Parker. Both were rescue dogs, trained by Teresa Ann Miller, who found each of them in shelters. Not only are they both gorgeous representatives of their breed, but they were adored by everyone involved in making THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN.
The other little star of the movie is Ryan Kiera Armstrong, who plays seven and nine-year-old Zoe, Denny and Eve’s daughter. She’s absolutely adorable --- and quite talented. And she does really well with the pups. She and Enzo have some rather precious scenes together.
The title of Stein’s book --- and the film --- refers to Denny’s philosophy about car racing in the rain. Many drivers fear the wet roads, whereas Denny has taught himself the invaluable techniques necessary for navigating the rain-soaked pavement.
If you are any kind of a dog lover, THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN is for you. Our little guy died recently, but hearing Enzo’s thoughts put into words brought all the joy of owning a dog rushing back. You know every time you look at your own pup, exactly what they’re thinking --- or at least we think we know what’s on their mind. Stein created a dog with a lot of soul, spirituality and a very wry sense of humor. Enzo is very special --- don’t miss seeing him!
Opinion: See It Now!
2015 was an amazing year for movies. Simon Curtis was the director for one of my Top 10 films of that year, WOMAN IN GOLD. So, when I learned that Curtis had directed THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, based on author Garth Stein’s runaway best seller, I was anticipating a very good film version. And I’m happy that I was not disappointed.
Full disclosure --- I read the book a long time ago --- about 70 years in dog years --- and forgot the story. But Curtis, along with screenwriter Mark Bomback (DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES) have done an exemplary job bringing the novel to the big screen.
It helps to have an excellent cast, namely: Milo Ventimiglia as Denny, the handsome race car driver and best friend of Enzo, the golden retriever played by two canines; Amanda Seyfried as his wife, Eve; Ryan Kiera Armstrong as their young daughter, Zoe; and Kathy Baker and Martin Donovan as Eve’s demanding parents/Denny’s in-laws/and Zoe’s grandparents --- or as Enzo calls them the “twins”. Gary Cole has a small role as Denny’s race car mentor, and last, but not least, Kevin Costner voices Enzo, the dog who narrates the entire movie.
They all have great chemistry, and they all love Enzo --- well, except for Martin, especially when Enzo has an on-purpose accident on their freshly cleaned carpet. When Eve first meets Denny, she discloses she’s never been a real dog person, but that changes in short order. Like all relationships, their marriage has its ups and downs, including one major crisis. But through it all, the cast is believable. Factor in Denny’s passion for auto racing and Enzo’s dream to sit shotgun as his owner maneuvers a grand vintage vehicle around the track.
Costner, the ever-reliable pro, is given plenty of dialogue to deliver as Enzo believes he will one day be reincarnated as a human. And like any story involving a beloved animal, there are weep-inducing moments. Ventimiglia is perfectly cast. Not a father in real life, you wouldn’t know it as he fights for custody of Zoe. Seyfried is bright-eyed and likeable as the pretty Eve. Little Kiera Armstrong holds her own without overacting.
Curtis never exploits any of the emotionality of the script, not allowing anything to get too sentimental. It’s all very naturally presented. And I must reveal that when Denny zooms around the track, it was reminiscent of a nickname given to Jeanne many years ago by her then very young niece, Heather. Speeding around the streets of Chicago because they were late to Sunday mass, Heather dubbed her the “she-demon devil-driver from the depths of Hell” --- still true today as Jeanne traverses the boulevards of LA.
Opinion: See It Now!