The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
Judging by the preponderance of paw-print bumper stickers, furry lives matter more than ever. Hollywood has always made animal movies, but no major release is as self-serious about a canine’s “humanity” as The Art of Racing in the Rain. Conceptually, whether or not commercially, the new film is one giant leap for dogkind.
The film presents itself as a traditional family drama. Race car driver Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia) hopes to compete on the Formula One circuit. He falls in love and gets married, and he and his wife Eve (Amanda Seyfried) have a daughter. Then tragedy strikes, followed by a far-fetched legal turn of events that sends the second half of the film on a whole new arc.
All the while, Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner), Denny’s golden retriever, narrates every detail. Enzo laments his inability to talk (to the Swifts), and copes as newcomers monopolize his beloved Denny’s time. (Still, I counted six occasions when Denny smooches his pooch’s head.) Enzo bears the rings at Denny and Eve’s wedding, and pontificates:
“If a driver has the courage to create his own conditions, then the rain [the film’s metaphor for adversity] is simply rain.”
Fine. But absurdity reigns. For example, Enzo believes the daughter’s stuffed zebra is demon-possessed. Is this repeated hallucination played for laughs? Nope. In A Dog’s Purpose, at least the human characters learn something about themselves. The Art of Racing in the Rain is all about a dog’s self-discovery. Enzo watches and reflects, preparing to be reincarnated as a person.
“Not all dogs return as men,” Enzo says. “Only those who are ready. I am ready.”
Can you guess the ending?
The PG rating fails to note brief sexuality and two misuses of God’s name. On a positive note, the film calls pregnancy “amazing … a baby being assembled.” The three other audience members at the showing I attended seemed riveted, shedding happy tears. It’s also sad, though, when people forget their pets’ place.