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The Art of Racing in the Rain – Movie Review

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The Art of Racing in the Rain – Movie Review

Rating: C+ (Above Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

There has somehow been a recent surge in movies where we hear a dog’s inner thoughts. These have mostly been adapted from books and The Art of Racing in the Rain continues this fascinating trend. In the beginning, it seems like the film will center on a race car driver and how his dog becomes entrenched in that world. Eventually, the story becomes more about his family life and the racing aspect is strangely pushed to the background. The filmmakers go heavy on the weepy elements, but the characters aren’t as richly developed as they could have been. The film feels like a missed opportunity not to examine the racing world and the dangers inherent there.

Almost the entire film’s point-of-view is done through the dog, voiced by Kevin Costner with his signature tones. While the Josh Gad-voiced pooch from A Dog’s Journey tended to go heavy on the jokes, Costner’s canine is more like an omnipresent narrator. He gives enough insight into Enzo’s interpretations of the events as he waxes philosophically about racing and his love for Formula 1. The early scenes are when The Art of Racing is at its strongest, as we see his owner Denny’s drive to succeed on the track. Director Simon Curtis clearly has an interest in the motor sport, as he splices in archival footage of past Formula 1 races and champions like Ayrton Senna.

Once Amanda Seyfried is introduced as Denny’s girlfriend and eventual wife Eve, the more traditional sentimental drama elements are introduced. After a while, their relationship becomes the focus of the story and we move away from the racing. It eventually starts to reside more-so in the background with occasional references whenever the plot requires. It’s an unusual detour, as are other subplots that make their way into the screenplay. There’s a baffling section where the dog is accidentally abandoned and we get ten minutes of him starving at home and having hallucinations. This portion of the movie also poses the risk of removing sympathy form one of the main characters.

The weakest and most distracting part of the film comes when Martin Donovan is established as a vindictive and one-dimensional antagonist for Denny. It’s unnecessary for a story that doesn’t call for villains and this one is a step away from twirling his moustache and cackling. The start of The Art of Racing attempted some degree of subtlety, at least. This all goes away in the third act and it’s a disappointing road taken. However, to the film’s credit, its goal is more than just wanting us to look at the cute dog, like the A Dog’s Purpose movies are prone to.

Even with a solid lead performance from Milo Ventimiglia as Denny, The Art of Racing in the Rain doesn’t seem sure if it wants to be a tribute to Formula 1 and motor racing or a sentimental family drama. It wants to favour both, but has trouble with balancing these two opposing elements. Those looking for a movie about race car driving will be disappointed when the story drifts away from that. When the film does swing back around to Denny’s career, it feels like too little, too late. This is a movie that promises you one thing at the start and chooses to go in a different, underwhelming direction halfway through.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison