Don’t let the title fool you, The Art of Racing in the Rain is not an instructional video about driving on a wet race circuit. Instead, the film is about navigating the challenging twists and turns that life throws at you. It comes narrated by a golden retriever named Enzo, (Enzo Ferrari of course) voiced by Kevin Costner.
Enzo adores Denny Swift, his owner, an aspiring Formula 1 race car driver played by Milo Ventimiglia. Enzo enjoys watching his master race and watching TV. A show he sees about Mongolian dogs leads him to believe he will be reincarnated as a human, something he dearly wants.
As Denny’s racing career roars ahead, his home life comes to a screeching halt when Eve (Amanda Seyfried) develops a fatal illness. Denny and Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) struggle to find their way through the tragedy with Enzo’s help, and their story climaxes with a surprising and touching twist.
The movie is very faithful to the best selling novel it’s based on, written by Garth Stein and will see a lot of moviegoers in tears from start to end.
For Denny and Enzo, racing is not just a hobby or a profession — it’s a way of life — and it takes on a spiritual meaning for Enzo especially. He sees that life, like racing, isn’t merely about going fast. The strategy involved and many racing sayings are treated as a sort of holy text for Enzo. He uses these words and concepts to form a blueprint for how he sees the world. The juxtaposition of these ideas — one force that comes from within an individual, one that is an outside force — asks the audience to question how much control we have over our lives, versus how much is up to chance or fate.
Enzo shares his observations and is very upfront about the fact that he has a flair for the dramatic. He notes at various points that he doesn’t know the full truth of what happened in the events he describes — because dogs aren’t allowed in just anywhere.
At its core, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a story about relationships, life, loyalty, love, and loss from a dog’s perspective while adding a layer of auto racing on top. The distance provided by non-human narration allows us to consider if humans are genuinely as good or as evil as Enzo sees them, and what it truly means to be human.
It may come across jarring if not bizarre, though, you are likely to be in for a surprise. All of those elements mesh beautifully in Stein’s book and have been captured on screen.
Stein’s experiences as a Sports Car Club of America Spec Miata racer inspire the book’s passages on racing. Actor and racer, Patrick Dempsey, acquired the movie rights and worked with filmmaker-racer Jeff Zwart and various IMSA race teams to ensure the racing footage is realistic. The result is authentic and leaves car enthusiasts lusting for more racing scenes.
Animal lovers should know that nothing terrible happens to Enzo — though he does have two close calls due to his owners’ highly unbelievable negligence.
At times, it is challenging to care about the human characters, but it’s important to remember the story is from Enzo’s perspective. That’s what makes it interesting and entertaining. Enzo is slow to accept Eve, and thus, Seyfried’s character is plagued with suffering as she comes between Denny and Enzo. Denny doesn’t need to be anything spectacular because of Enzo’s unconditional love for his owner.
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects is Costner’s easy-on-the-ears drawl as Enzo; everything he does makes sense, at least in dog logic.
The film is utterly heart-wrenching but still incredibly funny, with a surprising dash of motivation. The Art of Racing in the Rain is beautifully crafted and offers a captivating look at the absurdities and wonders of human life… as only a dog could tell it.