THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN (Dir. by Simon Curtis, 109 min., USA, 2019)
BY JASMIN ALVAREZ Garth Stein’s philosophical, tear-jerk 2008 novel starts at its end. The senile narrator, a dog named Enzo (named after Ferrari founder, Enzo Ferrari), reexamines his own life as he lies in a puddle of his own urine and awaits the arrival of his owner and his own inevitable euthanization. He proceeds by playing back, in a series of heartfelt vignettes, both the most crucial and endearingly mundane moments of his life, which was spent with a family that considered him as human as themselves. Remembering his beginnings in a bachelor-paradise shared with his owner, the amateur Formula-One racer, Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us), Enzo indulges us with memories of riding laps around the racetrack and meditates on his self-education about karmic reincarnation (vis a vis The National Geographic). As Enzo ages, however, Denny marries Eve (Amanda Seyfried, Mean Girls), and life moves forward, Enzo (given his sage, gruff voice by Kevin Costner) is forced to face his demons, deal with losing the people he cares for most, and learn the limitations of his own body. Much more than a heart-wrenching hallmark tale, the story employs the act of defiantly racing at unsafe speeds despite earth’s harshest elements as a metaphor for navigating our lives’ most unforgiving “rainstorms”–our biggest emotional letdowns, our failures.
Stein’s contemplations about humanity within the novel affected me long after I finished reading it in 2008, so naturally, news of the novel’s 2019 film-adaptation invoked serious apprehension. Walking away from the theatre with a wet face, however, I was pleased to find my assumptions were mistaken. The film was produced for Disney by Patrick Dempsey (a.k.a. McDreamy)—and truthfully, who could have done a better job than an actual competitive race-car driver? I was thrilled to see his beautiful translation of the tale vividly portrayed on the big screen, and pleased with the adaptation’s loyalty to Stein’s original.
While the novel has the benefit of engrossing its reader with several of the dog’s deeply-affecting soliloquies—once-removed observations about the human condition, our methods of interaction and communication with one another, and our reactions to life’s spontaneous storms, the reproduction tends to focus far more on the story of the family. As producer Simon Curtis told the Hollywood Reporter at the film premiere, “In these uncertain times, this is a story of real people with real emotion leading their best lives” — and that’s exactly what it is. A soul-stirring story, with optimistic and hopeful overtones, about real people navigating the tragedies and betrayals life hands them—told from the perspective of the silently scrutinizing observer who is closest to it all. With the inclusion of several of Stein’s racing anecdotes like “The car goes where your eyes go” and “No race has ever been won in the first corner; (but) many have been lost there,” the story will surely shake the heartstrings of animal lovers, racing fanatics, and philosophers of humanity alike.