by Dean Case, Gearhead Motorsports Advisor
editors note: Join the California Automobile Museum for a special showing of the movie August 24, 2019 at 11 am in Sacramento. Proceeds to benefit the Museum
Disclosure: I consider Garth Stein to be a friend, having first met him a decade ago. I first read the Art of Racing in the Rain in 2008 along with my Mazda Motorsports teammates at the time. We all loved the book. We loved it enough to cold call Garth and invite him to race an MX-5 Cup car in Portland. Jim Jordan loved it enough to urge/nag/push Patrick Dempsey into reading it, telling him he should option the movie rights. He did. It then took a decade to get it approved, funded, shot, edited, and on August 9th, released.
My comments will NOT include any spoilers, but thanks to a KCET Cinema Series event, I watched the film last week with a theater full of hardcore film buffs. They loved it as did I.
I purposely did NOT reread the book before seeing the movie. My fear was that if I did, I would nitpick the movie anytime it failed to follow the exact storyline of the book. It is not the exact storyline, but it follows the spirit of the book closely, and Enzo gets the best lines in the movie.
A few thoughts to consider.
The movie stands on it’s own. Every race fan should see it. Take the dog lover in your life to see it. And if they haven’t read the book, buy them a copy of the book and take them to a real race. If you teared up while reading the book, expect the same when you see the movie. If you did not tear up reading the book, what is wrong with you?
Remember that the book and movie are FICTION. Racing is the backdrop, and racers loved the fact that Garth nailed the details in the book. I recall no less of a motorsports authority than Leo Mehl telling me that Garth captured Aryton Senna’s personality perfectly. Garth never met Aryton, but he understands racers.
Like everything in life, the movie producers had a budget to work within and a schedule to maintain. Someone had to balance the cost of real cars vs CGI, especially if a crash scene was a part of the story line. Here’s a minor spoiler – there is no big crash in the Art of Racing in the Rain. That’s a good thing to me. Racing was portrayed as a serious profession, one where it is very difficult to succeed, but dramatic crashes? None. They hired Jeff Zwart to shoot all of the racing scenes, so race fans should love the track action, but they will likely want more. Would that have been cool for race fans? Yes. Would it have made for a better movie? No.
I’m pretty certain the number of “dog people” who read the Art of Racing In The Rain vastly outnumbers the “car people”. A movie like this, with a positive depiction of racing, will hopefully bring in new fans. Race fans who loved the Steve McQueen “Le Mans” movie ignore the fact that it tanked at the box office and did not appeal to anyone who wasn’t a hardcore race fan or Steve McQueen fan. It was two hours of amazing cinematography without any real story. “Le Mans” was an argument against studios doing racing movies for many years.
For me the “best” non-documentary racing movie was “Grand Prix” as it balanced story, acting, action, casting, cinematography, soundtrack and everything else that makes a movie great. It appealed to race fans and non-race fans. I also liked “Rush” even though I thought it was s dumb title.
I would argue the most “significant” racing movie was “Winning” as that started the amazing race career of the one we knew as PL Newman in the paddock. Fingers crossed that Milo Ventimiglia or Amanda Seyfried decides to follow in the footsteps of Paul Newman or Patrick Dempsey. Not likely, but we can hope.
Final thoughts. I was really surprised at the lack of product placements. Given the nature of the sport, I expected a lot. It was almost non-existent. Denny even races at “Laguna Seca” and I am happy about that.
My only complaint on the movie was that Enzo is seen being adopted from a puppy mill (that’s not a spoiler as it’s in the trailer). I wanted him to be a shelter dog. The producer who did Q&A at the screening I attended, said the dogs used in the move were actually rescue dogs, so I’ll take that as a win.
Back in 2008 there was a rumor that NASCAR wanted the movie version to be altered to make Denny a stock car racer. It was joked that the movie would then become “The Art of Standing in the Garage, Waiting for the Rain to Stop”
GO SEE THE MOVIE. BUY A FRIEND A COPY OF THE BOOK. TAKE A FRIEND TO A RACE.
Christmas movies have a special place in my heart, but not just any Christmas movie. Sure, I enjoy the sappy, heart-warming endings that most Christmas movies wrap up with (yes, pun intended), but I hate being talked down too, like a Hallmark greeting card. I want a bit of bite to my movies, a bit of angst, humor, and as in the case of my favorite Christmas movie, Surviving Christmas, some connection to the underground pop culture as well as loveable but totally wacked out characters.
Surviving Christmas came out in 2004 to horrible reviews and a 7% rating on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes. It was considered a box-office bomb and was released two months later on DVD. Honestly, I wonder if critics even bothered to watch the movie. The reviews all echo each other claiming the film was a horrific waste of time, a movie with little humor and grace and to be avoided at all costs.
Featuring Ben Affleck as the eccentric millionaire Drew Latham who doesn’t want to spend Christmas alone and Christina Applegate as the snarky sarcastic daughter Alicia with James Gandolfini as the cantankerous father Tom Valco and Catherine O’Hara as his “so over it” wife Christine, the movie is hilarious from start to finish, with a stellar cast to boot.
Drew has avoided Christmas because of painful childhood memories and after his vapid girlfriend Missy breaks up with him when he presents her with first-class tickets to Fiji instead of bringing her home for Christmas to meet his family, he follows the counsel of her therapist and journeys to his childhood Chicago suburbs home to clear his heart and start afresh by writing his grievances on a piece of paper and setting them on fire in front of his childhood home, now occupied by the Valcos.
After Tom whacks Drew over the head with a snow shovel for displaying pyro tendencies, Drew bribes the family with $350,000 to be his family for the holidays, to which they readily agree considering the parents are getting ready to split up and have zero holiday cheer anyway. Drew sets about writing a script for the family to follow so it perfectly recreates his memories of his childhood Christmases past and pushes the family into re-enacting his demands with the threat of “breach of contract” hanging over their heads if they don’t.
Meanwhile, younger brother Brian stays sequestered in his room, watching porn on his computer. Look at the posters in the background of Brian’s bedroom and you will see Gearhead posters V/A Runnin’ On Fumes (the original art for this was featured also on the cover of Gearhead Magazine No. 19) and The Hellacopters Cream of the Crap (originally only available as an insert with the record but now for sale as a stand alone poster) as set dressing!
Coupled with a killer soundtrack featuring everything from Cherry Pie by Warrant and Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano Jingle Bell Rock by Chet Atkins, an off-key rendition of Oh Christmas Tree sung by Affleck and Gandolfini, and the classic Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses as well as a vintage cherry red Chevelle SS (guessing but not sure, 1970) the movie is not only smart and funny, but it has great pop culture references through out.
The script is well written, fast paced and just twisted enough to keep you laughing but not cringing. I honestly don’t know how this movie was trashed so badly unless the cretins writing about it were stuck in their own version of holiday hell. Maybe they hated it because Affleck is playing a pretty unlikable character. Or maybe because the movie doesn’t sugar coat the dysfunctional family dynamics brought out by the holidays. I have no idea, and I can’t really guess why they hated it so much.Everyone I have turned on to this movie loves it and thinks it's hilarious.
All I know is ignore the critics, track down this movie and enjoy some really funny clever moments with Surviving Christmas. And don’t forget to look for the Gearhead posters in the background!!
Rock 'n' Roll/Automotive Journalist, Influencer, Editor and Publisher of Gearhead Magazine,