3 out of 5 stars
The ‘mind of a dog’ film has been a regular part of Hollywood’s repertoire throughout the decades. The formula usually involves comedy, tragedy and a dog bowl full of tears. The Art of Racing in the Rain does add the testosterone-laden element of the car racing scene, but can this aspect change the expectations of this genre of films?
The unique connection between an owner and his dog is something that can only be experienced by dog owners. The story starts when the golden retriever puppy, Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner), first sees his future owner, Denny (Milo Ventimiglia). From the beginning, the owner and his dog quickly realise that they were meant for one another. Especially when they go to the race track where Denny is a driver, this is where the young dog finds his place and identity. They travel together across the racing circuit and establish an irrevocable bond as a dog and his human that resembled a relationship between siblings. (At least in Enzo’s mind and thoughts.)
Their relationship is disrupted by Eve (Amanda Seyfried) who captures Denny’s heart, but must prove herself to Enzo. Eventually, she wins over the golden retriever and the school teacher finds her place in their lives. She marries the race car driver, despite the wishes of her parents for her to find a man with a more stable career. The young couple grows in their love for one another and bring a daughter into the world. Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is a welcomed part of their lives and Enzo takes it upon himself to be her protector as Denny travels around the country. Then tragedy strikes the family and the couple quickly discovers what they are willing to do during some of the greatest struggles that can befall a household, all under the watchful gaze and philosophical perspective of their faithful dog and friend, Enzo.
What most people might expect from a film about a beloved pet is that this would be one for the whole family. The challenge of Garth Stein’s story is that the themes are targeted to a more mature audience than the typical film in this genre. The quality of the film is good, but the subject matter becomes inaccessible for young children. Especially the philosophical undertones of reincarnation become unnecessarily distracting and add a bizarre element in an otherwise endearing tale. One thing that might add to the mature context of the script could be that the dog from beginning to the end has the deep and mature voice of Kevin Costner, a bit strange for puppy and younger dog.
Another key difference with this film to others within this genre is the multitude of twists and turns in the lives of the characters. Reminiscent of the fast-paced atmosphere of the racetrack, the screenplay moves quickly through the years of Enzo’s life with his family. The experience is not overwhelming, but it does mean that the audience needs to stay engaged to keep up with the ever-changing timeline.
The Art of Racing in the Rain delivers strong production quality and the content is acceptable for young families. The main challenge is that parents will need to watch this film with their children to discuss the more significant questions around death, grief, and family issues that come out in the movie.
How do you deal with life when it seems that nothing is going right?
Films like this one may make you wonder how people go on when a multitude of struggles come their way. Denny seems to think that sheer determination and hard work is the primary answer to overcoming struggles. Yet, most of us know that hard work and grit do not always provide the solutions we need in life. Which leads us back to the original question, where can people find hope during trials?
'Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.' - An excerpt from a letter from the Apostle Peter
In an attempt to avoid being trite, a good place to turn is to the God of the Bible. The instructional side of Peter's words are to understand that you need help, trusting that God can help you at all times and because he cares for you, you can give all of your concerns and difficulties over to him. During times of difficulties, this is a place of hope and help.