Updated: Feb 29, 2020
As a person who often lives with and loves pets, I occasionally wonder what their English assignments would look like if they wrote about me. Author Garth Stein transformed a variation of that concept into a bestselling book called "The Art of Racing in the Rain," now a movie starring several actors and a dog with Kevin Costner's voice.
As Enzo the golden retriever, Costner uses gravelly, sometimes growly tones to narrate his stories and observations. Using far more words than "stay," "sit," and "shake," the dog displays an elaborate understanding of philosophy, the legal system, and the art of racing in the rain — a title referring to Enzo's owner, a professional driver. Enzo's thoughts come with innate sweetness — what else from a golden retriever — but all writing guides emphasize a need for conflict, so the story eventually includes struggles that feel contrived and cliched. A few other names and titles like Nicholas Sparks, Kramer vs. Kramer or Love Story give the basic gist, and The Art of Racing in the Rain adds nothing new to that mix. It succeeds better with its look at the world of car racing, which as Enzo explains, requires intense focus, living in the moment, and taking control of any obstacles that arise.
Director Simon Curtis, who worked well with people like Helen Mirren in such films as Women in Gold, catches the blend of actors, a dog, and race action effectively, treating the story in a straightforward manner rather than as a simple family film aimed at kids. Though the sugar load jumps high at times, sappiness gets trumped by golden fur and a warm heart. Unless of course, your cynicism levels rank in the Scrooge range.
Then, you might prefer the take on dogs in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (I sort-of do). Tarantino uses a pit bull named Brandy, who won my heart. Tarantino also includes sporadic narration, so after watching The Art of Racing in the Rain, it occurred to me that Once Upon a Time might be even better if Brandy told the story. Give her Pam Grier's voice with a large supply of expletives, and even the hardest cynic might melt.
This review was originally aired on 8/14/2019.
You can listen to it online at https://www.kunr.org/post/art-racing-rain#stream