Given that so many films these days are linked to stranger-than-fiction real-life characters and events (see: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile; The Farewell), it stands to reason that no matter how fantastical some of these onscreen plots are, they always feel like they could potentially be based on something, or someone, real.
But while 20th Century Fox’s latest feature, Art of Racing In The Rain feels like a true story, with all its elements of a heart-wrenching true story — Pets! Love! Tragedy! — the film is not, in fact, the re-telling of a real man's best friend. The movie is, however, based on Garth Stein’s best-selling novel of the same name, which was published to wide acclaim back in 2008, and features characters and plot points that are loosely inspired by Stein’s own life and experiences.
The story follows the lifespan of Enzo, a wise pup whose owner, Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia), is a race car driver and customer representative at a BMW dealership in Seattle. Enzo (Kevin Costner) narrates both the book and the film, and regales the reader/audience with a story about Denny’s many triumphs and struggles, which include falling in love with his wife, Eve (Amanda Seyfried), the birth of the couple’s daughter Zoe (Lily Dodsworth-Evans/Ryan Kiera Armstrong), Eve’s later illness, and of course, Denny’s challenges on the race track.
Through it all, Enzo observes Denny, Eve, and Zoe in hopes of “preparing” himself for the afterlife, which, according to a Mongolian legend, entails him being reincarnated as a human. The Mongolian legend is a real one, and stems from the belief that dogs and humans are “of the same spirit,” according to the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project’s website.
“When a [dog] dies, its remains are typically placed on top of a mountain so it is closer to the gods and spirit world, and so that people do not walk over its bones,” the site explains. “It is believed that humans can be reincarnated as dogs and dogs as humans.”
There are other elements of the story that are lifted from real life, too, like the fact that Stein was previously a race car driver before he got into an accident that caused him to “semi-retire.” (Incidentally, his bio on the website notes that the accident happened while he was racing in the rain.)
Enzo, too, is based on a real dog. Stein explains on his website that the pup is based on an Airedale Terrier that he owned as a kid. Onscreen, Enzo is a golden retriever played by a friendly dog named Parker, which makes sense, given that golden retrievers tend to be among the most popular breeds used in TV and film.
So while it's not exactly a one-for-one true story, there are still parts that come from real life.