The Art of Racing in the Rain (2019)

“Gestures are all that I have.”

Emotionally hollow, excessively cloying, and brimming with unearned melodrama from clumsy start to lousy finish, The Art of Racing in the Rain is the type of film that tells you what to feel instead of investing the time and the effort to really move you there. I have to imagine it’s the kind of picture that will make many folks cry without asking them to think or to reciprocate a piece of themselves back towards what they’re watching. As such, it’s an easily forgettable and innocuous movie to watch, and it’s frustrating in its simple soap opera depiction of life’s many universal problems. The Art of Racing in the Rain wants to teach us how to navigate the rough spots of life but fails to ever feel real, rarely shifting out of neutral. It’s among the worst films I’ve seen in 2019.

Adapted by Mark Bomback from the novel of the same name by writer Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain follows the trials and the tribulations of aspiring Formula 1 driver Denny (Milo Ventimiglia) and his intuitive golden retriever Enzo (voiced by a rather listless and uninspired Kevin Costner). Together they find Eve (Amanda Seyfried), she and Denny are married, and their daughter Zoe (portrayed by Ryan Kiera Armstrong as a child and Lily Dodsworth-Evans as a teen) enters the picture shortly thereafter. But Eve gets sick, passes away, and the tolerable aspects of the film are switched out as it becomes a crummy story about Denny’s custody battle for Zoe with his wealthy and spiteful in-laws. The drama couldn’t feel any more phony.

This is a film about a man who drives race cars and it realistically has only one inventive driving shot to its name. Much of the rest here from director Simon Curtis is sentimental hogwash, featuring lethargic performances and uninspired writing. What I can’t seem to understand is the mass appeal of Milo Ventimiglia, a man who seems kind in interviews that I’ve come across but who’s also yet to deliver a performance anywhere above the quality of shoddy day time television. I’ve seen him play many roles, yet I haven’t seen him inhabit one or test his range. He has good presence, and still I can’t help but think that he could and should take more creative risks. He plays Denny (and most other characters) in a boring monotone. It’s like watching mediocre karaoke. At some point you have to find and establish your own voice if you want to leave a mark.

I can see why The Art of Racing in the Rain made a splash as a popular and best-selling book club novel, and I can understand why it hardly makes any sense as a film. The movie lacks personality and wit, is missing weight and virtue, and becomes tiresome in its startlingly stupid finale. Denny struggles to pay bills while he chases dreams and runs away from heartache and tries to raise his daughter, and the rift between him and his in-laws during the final third might be the most painfully forced and disingenuous storytelling I’ve come across this year. The Art of Racing in the Rain wants to be hailed as a vehicle of wisdom when in reality it’s just a foolish film that hydroplanes from one place to the next. It’s never a good sign when a dog literally delivers the most nuanced acting in a movie.

“I ran out hoping that what I had seen was only in my mind.”

Rating: 1 out of 5

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