If you take a look at the movies that have been released over the past decade or so, you’ll notice a trend that many filmmakers and movie studios have used to pull on the heartstrings of potential patrons and push them into movie theaters. In animated hits like “The Secret Life of Pets,” tearjerkers like “Marley and Me” and inspiring films based on true stories such as “Max” and “Eight Below,” dogs have ruled the big screen and continue to do so with new releases like “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”
“The Art of Racing in the Rain” is the perfect summer flick for dog owners and admirers alike for the many lessons and reminders it contains. The movie boasts a star-studded cast, including celebrated actor Kevin Costner, everyone’s favorite dad from “This Is Us,” Milo Ventimiligia and Amanda Seyfried.
The film, based off the Garth Stein novel of the same name, follows the life of a golden retriever named Enzo (voiced by Costner) and the many trials and tribulations that he experiences in his life. His family includes Denny (played by Ventimiglia), a race car driver who marries ESL teacher Eve (played by Seyfried), and daughter Zoe.
“The Art of Racing in the Rain” opens with an aged Enzo, whose old age has resulted in him peeing on the floor. Denny greets him and calmly cleans it up and does not scold the dog. This moment in the film is one of many that serve as an important reminder to not only those who own pooches of their own, but also as a reminder for life in general: Things are going to happen, and it is much better to react calmly and lovingly and just move on than to lash out.
After the opening scene, viewers are taken back to the beginning of Enzo and Denny’s story, specifically the day that Denny picked out Enzo from the litter and then their first few nights together. Anyone who has ever had a puppy will immediately relate to the struggle displayed in “ The Art of Racing in the Rain” of getting a puppy acclimated to your home, being woken up at almost every hour to let the pup out and having your social life revolve around your new furry friend and their schedule.
Just like any other dog owner, Denny experiences major milestones in his life and his trusty pal Enzo is always right beside him through it all. Enzo is there to celebrate and participate in special events in Denny’s life like meeting Eve in the grocery store, falling in love, getting married to her and having a daughter with her.
Whether by being the ring bearer in the wedding, or becoming Eve’s confidant when Denny is away while she is delivering their baby, Enzo reminds moviegoers of the importance that dogs have in the lives of their families and that pets truly are just as valuable to a family as any other member.
Toward the middle of the film, life becomes a little less picture perfect and more raw when Denny’s beloved wife is diagnosed with brain cancer and is sent to live with her snooty rich parents who believe she is better off living with them. The diagnosis is hard on the whole family, as Denny tries to provide for them on his race car driver salary, to take care of his young daughter and to be there for his wife as much as possible.
Once again, Enzo is the supportive canine, and stays with Eve up until she sadly passes away. Those who own dogs know this scenario to be realistic. It always seems like dogs can read our emotions and sense when we need some extra comfort.
Pets also serve as a perfect distraction for when things get tough, as exemplified when Eve’s parents gain custody of Zoe and Denny struggles with money, the recent death of his wife and the new absence of his daughter. Zoe finds joy in seeing Enzo when her father brings him over after she requests to see him.
Distraction pops up elsewhere: During a custody battle with Eve’s parents over Zoe, Denny discovers every dog owner’s worst nightmare: Enzo becomes severely injured.
Strapped for cash and exhausted to the bone from all the turmoil surrounding his life, Enzo’s owner is completely devastated until a kind doctor agrees to get the dog on the mend for a discounted rate. This moment is a little spark of happiness amidst so much tragedy and serves as the perfect life lesson to remind audiences that there is good in every situation.
The film ends on many happy and bittersweet moments, as Denny gains custody of his daughter; he, Zoe and Enzo live together happily until we are brought back to the opening scene of the movie and hear the voice of Enzo explaining how it was his time to go, but that he would hopefully come back as a man.
No one ever wants to let go of their pet, but the way that death (specifically of an animal) is portrayed puts an emphasis on life and the beautiful memories created rather than focusing on the fact that they are gone forever.
The final few scenes of the film take place in the future, where Zoe is now a teenager living with her father in Italy, where they meet a little boy who is not only a huge fan of Denny, but also, you guessed it, is 8-years-old and named Enzo. Whether or not you believe in reincarnation or afterlives, this scene is extremely emotional for many reasons and allows the film to end on a sweet and uplifting note.
While critics did not seem to enjoy the film, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” resonated with many dog owners and lovers, including myself. My family and I have a golden retriever just like Enzo and could not help but see our Charlie in him while watching the film. We all laughed, cried and came out of the theater feeling warm, fuzzy and appreciative of our own pup.
I can understand how critics might have found fault with the film, as there were some moments that seemed a little hokey, downright cheesy or predictable at times. However, I believe that at its core, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” is a movie for those who have experienced the joy of a dog and the various seasons of life that come along with it.