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‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ Review: Dir. Simon Curtis (2019)

Courtesy of eOne

Garth Stein’s beloved 2008 novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, is perhaps best described as Marley & Me meets Formula 1. It has the ingredients to be a surefire success so it’s no surprise that director Simon Curtis leaped at the opportunity to give it the silver-screen treatment.

And it plays exactly like that summation. Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia) is a hot-shot driver on the verge of making it big; he finds himself inclined to get a puppy one day on his way to work, picking up a golden retriever he names Enzo – after the car, of course – and, from there, the film follows Enzo navigating this newfound life. From Denny’s pursuit to race in Formula 1 into his marriage with Eve (Amanda Seyfriend), their subsequent child Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) to Eve’s tragic illness, it’s all told through Enzo’s eyes – and mouth, with Kevin Costner voicing the petrolhead-canine and narrating the journey through life he takes with this family.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a plethora of these “dog narrates their navigation of life” films over the past couple of years – A Dog’s Purpose; A Dog’s Journey; A Dog’s Way Home – and The Art of Racing in the Rain is certainly no different to them. It’s structured in a similar way and operates on a similar notion of important themes, messages, and over-sentimentality. Whilst it has all of that, it perhaps stands out from its counterparts because of the execution. Curtis – and screenwriter Mark Bomback – are clearly aware of the story they want to tell; they do so with a level of care that the A Dog’s [insert adjective here] films didn’t. For starters, the characters are well-realised here; they may be quite predictable and the film may follow a formula that can get a little tired after a while but Bomback takes his time in exploring who Denny and Eve are. As a result, we care for them and their relationship with one another and with Enzo – which goes a long way when it comes to the film’s gravitas and more tender moments. Of course, Enzo – played by Parker and Butler – is adorable and the film’s big selling and watching point.

Like all of these films, there is a fair share of melodrama and over-sentimentality that is overcooked and Curtis undercuts the more dramatic scenes with music choices or editing decisions that don’t always work and deflate the weight of the scene, but the general tone is captured well. However, the film does feel like it lacks the true gut-punch because of how perfunctory the structure is – you can see every beat coming a mile away so there’s a tad less impact of the big emotional swings. It’s also just generally quite a heavy film, which is odd when the simple premise boils down to a dog that loves driving; there’s little in the way of levity and humour so the drama can feel a little overbearing and repetitive after a while. The characters are realised well enough though so which keeps the story investing nonetheless. These kinds of films know what they are and exactly who they’re appealing to; The Art of Racing in the Rain at least has some decent characters going for it and the promise of a car-loving dog which make for a competent and investing, albeit forgettable and lacklustre, endeavour. You come to these films for the dog and, on that notion, the wholesome Enzo alone is worth seeing the film.

The Art Of Racing In The Rain is released in cinemas on 9th August.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a real passion for movies and for writing. I'm a superhero fanboy at heart; 'The Dark Knight' and 'Days of Future Past' are a couple of my favourites. I'm a big sci-fi fan too - 'Star Wars' has been my inspiration from the start; 'Super 8' is another personal favourite, close to my heart... I love movies. All kinds of movies. Lots of them too.


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