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.
Rock 'n' Roll/Automotive Journalist, Influencer, Editor and Publisher of Gearhead Magazine,