Alright, so as most of you probably know by now, I’m a pretty big movie buff. Whenever the Oscar nominees are released, I do my best to pick up the loose pieces. What I mean by that is I make the attempt to dominate my local theater in the month of January/February in order to catch anything I missed throughout the year; hence, Joey Boats’ Belated Movie Reviews.
Anyway, Green Book was one of the films that fell through the cracks for me. When it initially came out, I saw it garnered some pretty good reviews but I never really looked into the subject matter. Then, I heard rumblings that it was “problematic” in some way because obviously anytime someone makes an attempt to unite the racial divide (whether it’s orchestrated correctly or not), Twitter storms in like an army of orcs breaking through the barricades of the Two Towers to impede any positivity.
Normally when I hear about a movie that’s either based or inspired by real events, I try not to do any research. When I walk into a theater to see a movie based on someone/something, all I want to know is the who, what, where, and when. For example, the end of Foxcatcher—a film about multimillionaire Jon Du Pont’s 1986 recruitment of two US olympic wrestlers—put me on my ass, which is something that could never have happened if I administered a cheap Wikipedia search beforehand.
So yeah, all I’ll tell you about Green Book‘s plot is that it follows the story of Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortenson), an Italian bouncer from the Bronx who gets enlisted to escort a world-class Black pianist, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), on his concert tour throughout the racist south.
First things first, there’s nothing that Hollywood loves more than a loud, unapologetic, tough-talking Italian because, well, it normally works. For every Gotti, there’s a million Godfathers. People love watching fat, overly sensitive paisans sporadically curse, murder, and/or beat the shit out of people. We’re an eclectic bunch I guess…
But yeah, in this situation it works, primarily due to the performances. The dialogue has its moments but the sheer simplicity of the script is what allows Mortenson and Ali to shine. Their dynamic essentially drives the film and I can’t stress that enough. Simply put, if the chemistry between the two leads in a film like this doesn’t work, you might as well send it straight to DVD, especially given what the film addresses…
As I mentioned, with the current sociopolitical climate in mind, making a movie like this is borderline impossible. Racism isn’t necessarily what I would consider easy subject matter and the controversy that’s manifested since the film’s release hasn’t necessarily helped its cause.
I won’t go too much into it, but evidently their are members of Don Shirley’s family who were upset they were never consulted during preproduction. Understandably, I could see how they could be upset. Furthermore, one member of the writing staff admitted to exposing himself as a part of the “Me Too” movement while Nick Vallelonga—another writer for the film, who is also the son of Tony Vallelonga—tweeted something “problematic” about Muslims cheering for the falling of the Twin Towers or something back in 2014. I don’t know much about that. I try not to hammer people for 5-10 year old Internet behavior.
On top of that, a lot of controversy has surrounded the actual film, a large majority concerning the portrayal of racism throughout the film. This, when it’s all said and done, I actually agree with. I won’t go into much detail (no spoilers) but a lot of the racism in the film comes off a bit “polite.” in other words, most racist characters in the film end up seemingly being excused for their behavior due to the culture of that era, rather than the fact that they’re raging dickheads. In the end, the film comes of as somewhat of a fairytale, but guess what? That’s often part of the reason you go to the movies.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you watch the film in a vacuum—when you just sit back and treat this film simply as a film, without giving any consideration to who it was based on or who was involved in the production—and disagree with it’s brilliance, I have no answers for you.
It was a feel-good movie and I highly doubt those involved in it foresaw any of the criticism it would draw. In the words of the film’s writer, Peter Farrelly, I believe their hearts were in the right place.
Long story short, Green Book was a simplistic joyride anchored by the performances of Mortenson and Mahershala Ali that I’m sure is guaranteed to have most moviegoers leaving the theater in a more positive, optimistic state of mind. In closing, the Oscars are on Sunday so, to tie things together, I don’t see this film winning much outside of Ali, who without-a-doubt turned in the strongest supporting performance of the year.
Final Score: 9.3 Boats out of 10