By Chic DiCiccio
In case you were wondering if “The Art of Racing in the Rain” was going to be an all-out tearjerker, just know that the story begins with a senior golden retriever knowingly nearing the end of his life. The dog, Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner), explains how he feels about the situation in heartbreaking fashion then begins to tell us the story of his life.
Dog owners that have fully embraced their four-legged friends as family members will uncontrollably ugly cry during most of “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” That opening alone should make most fall to pieces and the ups and downs in Enzo’s life will be familiar for anyone that took care of a sweet puppy dog. It’s a highly relatable movie … that also is as emotionally manipulative as you’d expect.
In an effort to help you recover from that particularly somber opening, the movie flashes back to Puppy Enzo and his adoption by aspiring race car driver Denny (Milo Ventimiglia).
Enzo basically becomes part of Denny’s pit crew as he whisks the adorable pup from race track to race track. Enzo’s inner monologue lets us know that he’s adopting an almost Zen-like approach to racing, hoping and wishing that he could be in the car with Denny.
Before you know it, Enzo is introduced to Eve (Amanda Seyfried) and Denny falls head over heels for her despite his dog’s inner conflict. The movie blows by Denny and Eve’s romance and gets right to marriage and the birth of their daughter, Zoe.
If there is a knock on “Rain,” it’s the lack of time spent in Denny and Eve’s relationship, which lessens its impact.
Director Simon Curtis and screenwriter Mark Bomback smartly stick to novelist Garth Stein’s source material and “Rain” never deviates from Enzo’s point of view. It also fulfills the greatest wish of nearly every dog owner: what is my dog thinking?
Enzo’s thoughts range from not understanding pregnancy, the feeling of purpose, and the anxiety and stress caused by loneliness. There’s some contradiction regarding his intelligence, but there’s no need to overthink it. After all, we are hearing the thoughts of a dog here.
While Ventimiglia and Seyfried are very likable, talented actors, “Rain” naturally belongs to Costner. His rough, yet disciplined and to-the-point delivery perfectly matches the well-behaved and thoughtful Enzo. He never wavers in his support for Denny and, for whatever reason, Costner’s narration strengthens that bond and brings the entire movie together.
“The Art of Racing in the Rain” isn’t changing the game or setting the bar for filmmaking in any way, shape or form.
There’s also no risk here as you know exactly what you’re going to get. It’s a crowd pleasing, yet melancholy look at life through the eyes of a sweet puppy dog.
But it is an absolute must see for dog owners. It will absolutely floor you and you’ll rush home to hug your best friend for a borderline weird length of time.