|'The Art of Racing in the Rain': Tearjerker & Tail-Wagger|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
09:19PM / Thursday, August 15, 2019
'Despite a plot-slowing traffic jam midway and the accumulation of saddening clouds in the later laps that almost turns matters into a dirge, director Simon Curtis's "The Art of Racing in the Rain" featured enough enthusiasm and albeit over-the-top sweetness to win me over.
Hey, it's about auto racing and dogs.
All that was needed to fully complete my world would be a healthy portion about food. Preferably unhealthy food. But alas, as this PG-rated tale about ambition, love and devotion unabashedly instructs, you can't have everything.
Meet Enzo — his namesake being Enzo Ferrari, of course — the golden retriever pup who wins race car driver Denny Swift's heart and narrates the story courtesy of Kevin Costner's human vocal chords. Although timeworn on first blush, the literary indulgence is able to effervescently dust itself off and regale us with a dog's eye view of human behavior. Given the requisite suspension of disbelief, we are tickled by our canine protagonist's philosophically entertaining look into his own innately, uh, humanitarian ethos.
Dog lovers in particular find it a necessary conceit to believe that, not only do our mongrels have our best interests at heart, but that they have an understanding of the cosmos that they might one day share with us if only we would evolve a little more. Non-dog lovers, on the other hand, who see the world's pooches as just animals who might dirty their carpets with shedding hair, for the most part won't get it — sort of the way I see golf. Thus it becomes clear early on that director Curtis, working from a screenplay Mark Bomback adapted from Garth Stein's novel, is willing to disregard the latter types in his loving meditation on human's best friend.
I have no problem believing that a dog can narrate a film, let alone make profound deductions about the species with which he's entered into symbiotic allegiance. All my dogs talked and posited grand theories, or at least I heard them. But Muffin, my curmudgeonly yet devoted Yorkie, the best eating pal you could ask for, sounded not like Kevin Costner, but rather emulated the distinct, Brit-like inflections of Ronald Colman. He essentially looked down his wet nose at Homo sapiens in general, which caused him no small amount of conflict as concerned his relationship with the Goldberger clan, some of whom he begrudgingly loved. He departed at age 12. I had hoped to get another 30,000 miles out of him.
Thus I couldn't help but think of that handsome little guy as Enzo relates the part he played in Denny's quest for auto racing greatness, which includes the all-important pit stop for romance with Amanda Seyfried's winsome, supportive and angelic Eve. Granted, it gets more than a bit soap opera-ish, and director Curtis either couldn't help telegraph what obstacles lay ahead for Denny, played credibly enough by Milo Ventimiglia, or simply didn't care to attempt any subtlety. Fact is, all the human beings are types, with only Enzo possessing any character dimension.
Oh, sure, everyone concerned is allocated an epiphany or two before the checkered flag is flourished, but Enzo's life journey approximates the stuff of a Hermann Hesse novel, replete with allusions to the spirituality and wisdom of the East.
And then there are the cars. Oh, the cars: practically every class of racer as Denny works his way up through the circuits. For the auto enthusiast, especially one whose childhood included reveries of Formula 1 glory, the film invites daydreaming galore. And so I reverted to a 9-year-old's brain for the occasion, and wondered, what would be better to hear? "Welcome to the Yankees," or, "Welcome to Ferrari." To paraphrase, "‘tis better to have dreamed and just become a writer than to have never dreamed at all." Besides, who's to say that in some parallel universe I'm not leading the pack of open-wheeled speedsters at Monaco? Heck, if dogs can philosophize ... .
Here's the thing, though. This isn't a great motion picture by any stretch of the imagination. It's a 2 & 1/2. Yet man does not live by "Citizen Kane" (1941) alone. The films we really, really like often say more about us than the subject matter into which they delve. They transport you to a place, happy, memorable, life-changing or all of the above.
And so in its paean to faithful dogs and fast, shiny cars, "The Art of Racing in the Rain" happily reminded me that this is where I came in, many years ago, when I first discovered the fantasy-prompting power of movies. It's that someone else feels the way you do — understands your passions, ambitions and/or fears. And as they say in the business, that's entertainment.
"The Art of Racing in the Rain," rated PG, is a 20 th Century Fox/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Simon Curtis and stars Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried and the voice of Kevin Costner. Running time: 109 minutes