Transitioning a popular book to the theater screen is a fascinating challenge. One of the fun facts I learned while dabbling in the book publishing industry was that the number of pages in a book is typically a good indicator for the number of minutes it would take the average person to read it. The mean number of words read per minute is about 300, which is also the average number of words on a book page. So, with a book like The Art of Racing in the Rain, the endearing story of a dog’s relationship with his human family, told from the perspective of the dog, the task of making it into a movie is rooted in translating essentially a 5 ½ hour read into a 2 hour watch.
For something like Jurassic Park, the task is made easier by the book being such a ready-made cinematic experience, but it becomes more arduous trying to capture the emotional backbone of a story like that in Art of Racing. Being a film about a dog, there is a natural aesthetic hook for any dog lover – from the cuteness of the puppy phase to the thoughtful canine expressions once the pup has shifted into the part of its life that defines the phrase “man’s best friend” – but the book was masterful at capturing an answer to the great question that runs through any dog owner’s mind throughout their furry friend’s life, “What would he/she say if capable of talking?” You cannot help but wonder about it, during the joyous moments to the “potty” training to the addition of kids to the dynamic to opening presents on Christmas and through anything and everything in between them and the heart-wrenching final moment; that is the essence of the book. The drama is in the details in prose, and replicating it with less dialogue and more visuals one could argue is a futile exercise. Art of Racing does its best, and its best was good enough for me and my wife.
43 million families in the United States have dogs. That target audience would get this movie; others likely (and predictably) would not. Like with Marley & Me, it would have been hard to mess it up for the target demographic. Enzo the dog, voiced by Kevin Costner, certainly anchors the film, but the cast, particularly Denny, the owner (Milo Ventimiglia of This Is Us), and the ensemble featuring his wife, daughter, and in-laws does well to compliment the inherent canine-appreciation with a range of human psychological components. By the end of the movie, I felt triumph for Denny and Enzo…and, of course, I cried.