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Film Review: “The Art of Racing in the Rain”

Garth Stein had been a high performance racecar driver who left racing after crashing his car while racing in the rain. He was impressed by a 1998 Mongolian documentary about dogs and the high regard that culture has for their canine companions. Then Stein heard a reading of a poem, “The Revenant,” that was told from a dog’s point of view. All these experiences came together as his inspiration to write his novel “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” which has now become a movie of the same name.

Actor Patrick Dempsey, an avid sports car racer himself, optioned Stein’s novel in 2009 with the intent to star as race driver, dog owner and Dad, “Denny Swift.” However, production on the film never came together until 2017, and by that time Dempsey had aged out of the role. Milo Ventimiglia accepted the role of Denny, and Dempsey remained attached as a producer of his passion project.

The result is a heartwarming tale told in classic style by a dog, “Enzo,” who takes on total believability as the narrator, recalling the poem Stein had heard. The Art of Racing in the Rain describes the main focus of the story, a metaphor for taking control over the sometimes perilous and chaotic journey of life.

Perhaps it sounds strange to have a dog as the narrator of a tale. However, think on this: dogs have an emotional perception that is much more clear, less cluttered than humans. By the end of the film, you will find that Enzo’s face is imprinted on your memory. Humans domesticated dogs about 33,000 years ago. Scientific evidence has revealed that the muscles around dogs’ eyes slowly evolved over the eons in order to mimic the facial expressions of their human companions, with whom they had developed a strong emotional bond. It has been found that dogs are better able to read and use human communication than any other animal, even chimpanzees.

Kevin Costner is wonderful as the voice of Enzo. He truly becomes the voice of this beautiful dog. It was a wise choice to have a dog tell the story, as it seems to raise the tale to a more cerebral plane of thought. Our hero Denny, on the way home from a race one day, happens to pass by a couple with a litter of puppies in their front yard and on a whim, picks Enzo out of the litter. Ventimiglia portrays Denny as a man who follows his dream with intense perseverance. He performs with just enough understated focus to give his character a grounded reality. He has been acting in film and TV since 1995, is just now receiving the recognition he deserves for his craft. He also stars in the current acclaimed TV series This Is Us as “Jack Pearson.”  Amanda Seyfried is memorable as Denny’s wife “Eve.” Gary Cole, Kathy Baker, Martin Donovan, Al Sapienza, and young Ryan Kiera Armstrong round out an excellent cast.

Directed by Simon Curtis (Goodbye Christopher Robin, My Week with Marilyn) this movie is a beautifully told story that will inspire your belief in the goodness of human nature and of the nature of those faithful companions, our dogs. 

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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