Life is a lot like racing cars, as you know if you read Garth Stein’s dependably sappy novel The Art of Racing in the Rain. The movie version, directed by Simon Curtis (Goodbye Christopher Robin) from Mark Bomback’s faithfully adapted screenplay, shares all the same folksy, vaguely New Age-y life lessons (which range from profound to silly) while relating the story of Seattle race car driver Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia), his wife Eve (Amanda Seyfried), their little girl Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), and the melodramatic ups and downs of their lives — all told from the perspective of their golden retriever, Enzo.
So it’s a dog movie, but one where the dog is merely an observer, with little direct impact on the story. The story, concerning love, ambitions, illness, tragedy, and in-laws, should feel tearjerkingly familiar to fans of Ventimiglia’s TV show This Is Us; it has that gentle broadcast-television gloss to it.
Enzo’s narration is provided by Kevin Costner, whose craggy, kind intonations suit an old, wise dog (an eager puppy less so, but we skip through those years pretty quickly). Calm and philosophical, Enzo knows he’s more self-aware than the average dog, to the point that you start to feel sorry for him for being trapped in a canine body when he knows more about life and death than most humans. There’s some ungainly humor in the juxtaposition of Enzo being both wise beyond his years (and species) and, for example, being a dumb dog who thinks Zoe’s stuffed zebra toy is a demon that he must tear apart. That awkward combination barely worked in the book; in living color on the big screen it’s especially goofy. But maybe you can overlook that for such a Good Boy.