by Julia Pisani ‘21
To begin this very professional review *wink wink*, I’d like to provide a summary of the book for anyone who needs a refresher or hasn’t read it. Feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you don’t need a refresher.
Denny, a professional race car driver, buys Enzo, a wise dog. Enzo loves to watch TV and observe the people around him, and learns a lot about life and about being a good human from doing this. Denny falls in love with Eve. They get married and have a daughter named Zoë. They buy a house. Everyone is happy. Denny and Enzo go to a reunion for Eve’s side of the family. There is a bad snowstorm when they are about to leave, and they end up driving Annika, Eve’s relative, home, because the roads aren’t safe. (Annika is fifteen years old.) She convinces Denny to let her stay at his house for the night. Annika then proceeds to force herself on Denny, who declines her advances. Next, Eve gets sick. She thinks she has a virus, so she takes Zoë and travels to the hospital, leaving Enzo alone for three days while Denny is away, racing. This scene is important because it exemplifies Enzo’s intelligence and how similar it is to that of humans’. He rations his water from the toilet and only goes to the bathroom on the front mat, strategies that dogs typically are not smart enough to enact. During these three days, Enzo hallucinates, thinking Zoë’s stuffed zebra has come to life and is molesting all the other stuffed animals. He unknowingly destroys the zebra. Denny finds out that Eve doesn’t have a virus, she has cancer. As she gets sicker and Denny’s job still requires him to travel, Eve’s parents, Trish and Maxwell, convince Denny to let Zoë stay with them to be closer to her mom. Denny and Enzo stay at home and visit Eve whenever they can. Eve gets a little better and is moved from the hospital to her parents’ house, where Zoë is still living. Trish and Maxwell begin telling Denny they want Zoë to live with them permanently, and Denny says no. Eve dies. Denny is ready to collect Zoë and have her move back in with him, but Trish and Maxwell decide to start a lawsuit over child support for Zoë, who is about six years old at the time. Denny, who is short on money after paying for Eve’s bills, finds a lawyer, but struggles to consistently pay him. Luckily, the lawyer lets it slide. Suddenly, Trish and Maxwell add a twist to the story. They charge Denny with child molesting, saying that he forced himself upon Annika. This crushes Denny’s spirit because the allegation is completely false; Annika forced herself upon him, and it’s not in Denny’s character to do to anyone what she did to him. Denny is broke and about to give up, but Enzo reminds him that he must keep fighting for his daughter. One night, when taking Enzo on a walk, Denny passes by a restaurant near Annika’s house and runs into Annika. He pleads with her to testify honestly and confess that she forced herself on Denny, not the other way around. Annika listens to him and tells the truth at the trial. Denny gains custody of Zoë. He also accepts a job working for Ferrari in Italy, and plans to move there with Zoë. At the end of the book, Enzo dies of old age. As he is about to die, he remembers a documentary he saw about dogs in Mongolia, that when they die, they are laid to rest a certain way so that they can become humans in their next life. Enzo knows he is ready to be born again as a human. The epilogue of the story is set in the future. Denny and Zoë are living in Italy; Zoë is in her early twenties. Denny meets a young boy who is a big fan of his racing. Denny asks the boy’s name and he says Enzo.
Book vs. Movie
Overall, the movie was very similar to the book, as it should be. There were two key
aspects of the movie that I noticed were very different from the book. For one, in the book, Annika forces herself on Denny, and Trish and Maxwell later charge Denny with child molesting, claiming that he forced himself upon her. Imagine my surprise when, in the movie, Annika wasn’t featured as a character at all. Instead, in a moment of rage, Denny accidentally lays a hand on Maxwell, who promptly falls dramatically and clutches at his arm. Trish and
Maxwell later charge Denny with assault, although Maxwell was not injured to any degree following the encounter. It’s my guess that the movie was intended to be family friendly, and the scene with Annika was taken out and replaced with a much less intense event in order to appeal to the designated audience. If that, in fact, was the reasoning for replacing Annika’s scene, I do think the movie makers achieved it well, although it caught me off guard at first.
The second huge change that I noticed was one that I don’t necessarily agree with. I have two different opinions on this, so hear me out. A very key aspect of Enzo’s character, as seen in the book, is his knowledge. Enzo considers himself to know more than most dogs. He learns a multitude of things from watching TV and observing the humans around him; he often remarks that because he cannot speak, he is at an advantage because this setback makes him a very good listener. Throughout the book, Enzo constantly remarks about what makes a good human, and what qualities and behaviors they possess. He also continually thinks about his next life, where he wants to be a human, and what he will do with the gifts of speaking and opposable thumbs. However, there is almost no mention of this in the movie. The movie seemed more focused on the events in Denny’s life and how Enzo interpreted them. The only time the audience is really given a glimpse into Enzo’s head is in the ending scene, when Enzo is about to die, and he pictures the documentary he once saw about dogs being laid to rest in Mongolia. One part of me disagrees with this choice, because an enormous part of Enzo’s character was completely cut out from the movie. However, another part of me realizes that the movie had to undergo a few changes to better appeal to the general audience; nobody wants to watch a movie that’s exactly like the book, and it seems that Enzo’s constant human thoughts and observations had to go. This was also strategic, because it seemed that Enzo’s view about being a good human was communicated as more of an underlying effect in the movie, rather than him stating his views, like he did in the book. While I understand the reasoning behind it, I still would have liked to hear more of Enzo’s thoughts.
To begin, the casting was perfect. When I read the book, I pictured Denny to be played by Alex Roe (look him up! he looks like a Denny!), but Milo Ventimiglia, who is a very talented actor, did a really good job. Of course, Amanda Seyfried, who is also incredibly talented, played Eve. She looked just like I would picture Eve to look. When Eve was sick, Amanda’s face makeup and bald cap looked very believable and not over the top, which was nice. The actress who played Zoë was very good as well. I was glad to see that she looked her age; the movie would have been very different if Zoë was played by, say, a thirteen-year-old actress. Whoever voiced Enzo must have been the same old man that has voiced every other dog in every other dog movie, but Enzo is very wise, so the voice fit him well.
I liked the visuals a lot. It was cool to be able to see Denny racing, because that’s not something I, personally, could really picture in my head while reading the book. I loved the way the scene where Enzo takes a ride in Denny’s car is set up. That’s a really great scene from the book and I’m glad it was kept exactly the same when it was adapted.
In terms of emotional appeal, I thought the movie would be a lot more tear-jerking than it
actually was. When reading the book, I admit, I cried a little bit, but there weren’t any tears throughout the entire duration of the movie, which caught me by surprise. Everyone cries while watching a movie where the dog dies! The scene toward the end, when Enzo died, was more peaceful than sad. In retrospect, that was probably strategic, because Enzo was ready to move on to his next life. In addition, the movie wasn’t very funny. Most dog movies are either funny or sad, and this movie wasn’t necessarily skewed toward either. That I didn’t like. I think the producers and directors should have aimed for the movie to be either funny or sad overall, and because they didn’t achieve that, the movie wasn’t nearly as emotionally appealing as the book.
I’ve never heard of the director, Simon Curtis. After googling him, I concluded that I’d
never heard of any of the other movies he directed, either. (When googling Curtis, I noticed that Patrick Dempsey was one of the producers for The Art of Racing in the Rain!) Although I personally would have approached the movie differently, I have to admit that Curtis adapted the book to film very well. The film wasn’t exactly like the book, and it differed from a lot of other dog movies in the sense that Enzo’s death was more peaceful than sad. It was definitely family friendly as well. To wrap up my review, I would like to award The Art of Racing in the Rain 8.5 out of 10 stars, and, yes, I would recommend this movie.
The Well is a written and visual commentary that focuses on reviews of the arts at Thornton Academy and the greater community. With the help of Ink's publication staff, The Well exists to both inform the readers about our arts and literature events, but to also collect the ideas and opinions of the students it is meant to enlighten.