Cars, Love, and a Dog: A Review of The Art of Racing in the Rain
I’ve always felt a special connection to The Art of Racing in the Rain. Author Garth Stein was a grassroots Mazda Miata racer, as I once was. I read his book and enjoyed the highly accurate and utterly unique metaphors connecting racing with life—yet with a story line (narrated by a golden retriever) that appealed to the masses. The book became a best-seller, to my great surprise and pleasure.
The ensuing movie project was taken on by Dr. McDreamy, Grey’s Anatomy TV star and real-life Le Mans racer Patrick Dempsey, giving hope for a film we car people would enjoy for drama and an accurate depiction of racing.
Hollywood being Hollywood, things got dragged out, and Dempsey was replaced by the younger Milo Ventimiglia (of This Is Us fame), who is not an actual race car driver but delivers the likeness of one (Dempsey stayed on as a producer and helped train Ventimiglia).
The end result, despite the title, is a movie about a dog that happens to include racing, rather than a movie about racing that happens to include a dog. Scoring it like a three-way baseball game, it’s Racing 3, Romance 8, and Dog 10. It’s an ideal date film, with a tear-filled plot that tugs at the heartstrings.
But is the racing realistic? The driving references are quite genuine, echoing my own instructions while coaching on track, from the classic fundamental, “You go where you look,” to the quintessential reason for racing: “The racing driver cannot think about the future, does not dwell on the past, and must be fully in the present. ” All good lessons for life, too.
The film did miss a favorite line from Stein’s book that rang true from my own experience—about how tough times in life are like dropping a wheel off track, and how the driver must ease off, gain control, and carefully re-enter the racing surface, lest a snap-spin send the car (or your life) slamming into the wall.
The lead character, Denny (Ventimiglia), is very likable, even if he lacked the steely intensity of a world-class racer. I would have directed a bit of Doberman into Denny’s persona—as played, it matched that of his golden retriever. Yet Eve, the love interest played by Amanda Seyfried, totally drew me in and only exhibited one flaw as the perfect race wife: too perfect. “Go race. It’s who you are, and never give up.”
Eve’s parents, The Twins, were the antagonists, and were smoothed out and depoliticized from the true evil they represent in the book . Their valid complaints about the racer never being home for the family really struck a chord with me. Race-series dates are cast in titanium. No days off, no postponements. A career driver absolutely has to be there. There’s no sick leave, either, by the way.
When Denny had to skip big events for racing, it brought real tears to my eyes, as I recalled crucial moments I personally missed: birthdays, my sister’s college graduation, my sweet mother’s sooner-than-expected passing. My last conversation with her was on the phone: “No, no, son, I’ll be fine, you go ahead and race. ” It’s something Eve might have said.
The film also caught me with its unexpected smartness. Early in the story, the hero pits and the crew mounts what I recognize as rain tires. But the track is dry. Sloppy, I scoff, a continuity error. But a lap later my eyebrows rose. Denny took a chance on rain coming, swapping tires while the sun was still showing. You only get two or three laps before the softies are ruined. I also lived exactly this scenario, pleading with my crew chief T.C. Kline, then winning at Road Atlanta in 1993 when a sudden downpour wrecked half the field in a 20-car hydroplaning holocaust on the back straight.
The call from Ferrari to a sports car racer in the U.S. on Christmas Day was quite a stretch—but the one I received from Penske Racing was quite real in my own life. My career was sputtering in 2002 when a race official named Mitch Wright called out of the clear blue, having suggested my name to 3R Racing for a World Challenge Porsche ride. We won our first race together, and it led directly to 12 unlikely years of factory racing contracts in my 40s and 50s. Miracles really do strike in this business. And so do tragedies.
Late in the tale, the film rolls out a stunning 1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa, but the climactic hot lap was never more than chill. Enzo the Dog needed some tire-smoking V-12 power oversteer. C’mon, he’s strapped in, light it up!
Although The Art of Racing in the Rain isn’t the next silver-screen Le Mans or Grand Prix for race fans, it is a very engaging and romantic piece, with some real racing references stirred in. Ironically, I found the preview for Ford v Ferrari that played just before the film to be aimed more down the front straight for us car folk. Editor, my next review?
Source : Erika Pizano Link