Monday, August 5, 2019

The Philosophical Dog: The Art of Racing in the Rain Movie Review

A man and his dog in a speeding red car
When I received a screening invite - my very first one for that matter - for the upcoming film The Art of Racing in the Rain, I was quite thrilled. This email message stood out from all the other interesting and tempting book review and current news requests I receive on a daily basis, and most of which I am unfortunately forced to turn down or postpone due to my own time restraints and constraints. In fact, reading books is a wonderful activity, but it is also rather time-consuming as I would be slowly working my way through up to three books at a time. Movie reviews, in comparison, are a much easier and quicker process since I can merely watch a movie over the span of a couple of hours, then reflect and later write on it.

Upon seeing the official trailer, I felt somewhat discouraged. This did not seem my type of movie as it is about a dog who wants to become a race car driver. Even though there were some noteworthy movie stars attached to the project, such as Kevin Costner as the voice of the aging dog Enzo and the amazing Amanda Seyfried, what got me most intrigued about the movie was the participation of filmmaker Simon Curtis, whose previous sensitive and touching Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) I very much liked, a film that should not be confused with the partially animated Christopher Robin (2018) by Mark Forster, which incidentally I enjoyed in equal measure.

The other reason to accept the invite was my son’s fondness for dogs. I encouraged him to come and join me for the advance screening, but he is as usual a bit hesitant when it comes to watching movies since they usually make him cry; this one, he told me after watching the trailer, seemed to be on the sad side. To sum up, because I had never attended a pre-screening before, and I liked the director attached to the film and due to my son’s boundless and unwavering love and appreciation for dogs, I decided to accept the invite.

I am very glad I did because as it turned out, the trailer did not do the film justice. It had played out as what I would normally consider not-my-kinda movie, but in the end, it ended up being my type of movie, at least in certain ways and manners. From the get-go, I was impressed with how sensitively and rather confidently the movie used film techniques to grab and drag us into the movie. The hovering music that included some well-chosen George Harrison tunes, the sad but wise words of the dog Enzo (oddly enough Kevin Costner in one of his more memorable roles), all of that immediately impressed me. I was also glad my son had not come along with me because it played out to be more melancholic than comic.

The movie had its share of flaws: there were problems with the pacing and flow as well as the lines given to the humans, which felt often wooden and trite as if the actors were merely going through the motions and not feeling or experiencing what has happening to them. But the shining star here was Enzo, the philosophical dog. When he figuratively opened his mouth, his humor and pearls of wisdom seemed surprisingly genuine and heart-felt. This was in fact quite a feat since it must have been very difficult to make a movie that was made entirely from the point of view of this admittedly cute dog.

This is a literary adaptation of the best-selling book by Garth Stein and although I have not read the book myself, I kept thinking whether the movie was perhaps trying to follow the book a bit too closely. On celluloid, we can easily empathize with the canine protagonist, but the other characters, the humans, felt a bit aloof. But somehow, Simon Curtis managed to pull it all off and make me feel genuinely moved at the very end of the film.

I will not deny that this movie hovers very closely - and at times dangerously - around tear-jerking territory, and the pacing and editing that give it a random episodic feel did not help much in the matter. Yet somehow the film does not fall into the trap of tearjerkers; instead, like the underdog driver in the story, it carefully circumvents that slippery road and manages to earn its tears. The plot is emblematic and rather predictable for the genre, but a surprising line here and there makes it swerve into a slightly different and a more interesting and novel direction.

I am certain that any other director would not have had the sensitive touch to make this project work. But when the movie ended, I felt I had gone through a beautiful experience that I was very glad to have been part of. I appreciated the fact that I was in the movie theater watching a movie I would not have considered if it were not for the given sets of circumstances outlined earlier. Furthermore, here is the review that came about and came to life only due to and because of that screen invite.

Interestingly, at the beginning I was forbidden to review it until a given date and time. I am of course fully compliant with the rules but as a novice to this domain, I found it rather curious to have a limited gag / embargo imposed upon my critical voice. Also, we were told at the very beginning of the movie that we were not allowed to use any cellphones with the warning that if we did, we would not only be immediately escorted out but might potentially have our phone confiscated in the process. Certainly, all of this only increased my interest and curiosity, and again, I fully complied with all the rules and conditions.

During the movie, I noted that one of my fellow theater goers was consistently glancing at his phone to check the time; he did not seem very thrilled about the film, which did at times feel a bit slow, I must grant. But my only negative - albeit somewhat humorous - experience, the thorn and brunt of it, was the woman sitting beside me who kept exclaiming something that sounded along the lines of wooshee, wooshee whenever there was a close-up of the dog.

This would not have necessarily bothered me if it had occurred merely once or twice, but there were many close-ups, and she did so consistently and right on cue. Notwithstanding, when the movie ended and the lights went on, I felt elated and immediately hoped, there shall be more screening invites coming my way. And that could easily include movies that are not generally considered my type of movie to begin with!


Nelson said...

This could be the best film review I've ever read. Comparable to those of the late Roger Ebert but more detailed. I hope you get many more offers in this line of work, and that your reviews can be taken up by IMDB. Of course, at this stage in your life and career you wouldn't have time to take up many offers, but you could pick and choose, as opposed to accepting a contract.

Arash Farzaneh said...

Thank you, dear Vincent! Yes, movies are my driving passion and force in life! If there is any interest or offers out there to review them, I would be more than thrilled and willing to do so and gladly take on the additional duty!

At times, I feel I do not write enough about movies here (I do brief reviews on Twitter on a regular basis though), but you are right in pointing towards time restraints. One day, I would like to start a "film only" blog, but that would be sometime down the line.

As to the great Roger Ebert, he has always been my inspiration even though we occasionally diverged in our views about movies. So the comparison too is well taken and I would like to add well put!