They tried with Green Book, at least.
Racism is a complicated, messy and unpleasant issue — unless you’re watching Green Book, that is. This movie will have you believe it’s rather simplistic and can be easily solved, almost to a problematic degree.
Green Book is a new film from director Peter Farrelly, who’s best known for making slapstick, stupid comedies like Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. Farrelly also wrote the screenplay, along with Brian Hayes Currie and Nick Vallelonga — the son of the main character in Green Book.
Based on a true story (at least, to some degree), Green Book follows Tony “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) as the two of them take a road trip in the Deep South during the 1960s.
It’s not like the two of them were great friends to begin with.
In fact, they come from quite opposite walks of life. Tony was a bouncer for a club in Brooklyn, known for his tough-as-nails personality and ability to talk himself out of any situation.
Don, on the other hand, is an African-American pianist who appreciates the finer things in life, as he plays into every rich artist stereotype that you could possibly think of.
After booking an eight-week concert tour right before Christmas Eve in states like Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, Don knows that he’s going to need some sort of protection. These states weren’t really known for their acceptance towards African-Americans during this time, after all, meaning traveling through them could potentially be dangerous.
Somehow or another, Don heard of Tony’s abrasive personality and thought he’d make a good driver/bodyguard. Tony, who needs the money since the club shut down for two months for renovations, accepts and off they go.
Things more or less go as you might expect, at first.
Tony, who’s racist tendencies often eke out in gross, unpleasant ways (don’t worry though! He’ll have a change of heart by the end!), spends the whole car ride talking and eating all the fast-food he can get his hands on. Don is off-put by this but, not wanting to cause any trouble, doesn’t say too much about the matter.
Starting to see how Green Book is problematic yet?
Upon seeing the way Don is treated by the community, police officers and even the people he’s supposed to be entertaining, Tony then begins to re-think certain things and, before you know it, a friendship has grown between the two.
Before going any farther, I want to preface that I don’t think Green Book is an ill-intentioned film. When tackling this project, I don’t think that Farrelly, Mortensen, Ali or anyone else involved purposely wanted to make a movie that came off as careless or offensive.
I just don’t think it was thought through very well.
Making the white guy the hero in a story about racism might not a have been the best idea. While Mortensen actually plays the role of Tony Vallelonga really well and will likely be raking in all kinds of awards during the coming months (even though those awards really should be going to Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody), having his story and inner-conflicts overshadow Don’s doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Especially when there’s seemingly an interesting story to be told with Don — one that’s constantly hinted at throughout Green Book but never really explored. While respect by his fellow quartet members, Oleg (Dimeter Marinov) and George (Mike Hatton), Don is a lonely individual who spends most nights drinking by himself. Whenever he does interact with other people, which sometimes involves risqué behavior that the film is quick to gloss over, it usually ends poorly.
Why is Don so lonely in the first place? We don’t know, because Green Book is more interested in telling us how much Tony misses his wife, Dolores (Linda Cardellini), and how he’s trying to get home for Christmas Eve rather than exploring anything that could actually start a conversation.
Which is the other major problem with Green Book — this is a surface-level look at issues that really shouldn’t be treated in a surface-level way.
There’s this weird, complicated attribute that the filmmakers present where they want you to look at the way that people treat Don as offensive and wrong, while also presenting the 1960’s in somewhat of a nostalgic, joyful way. Compare this to something like Blackkklansman — which handles this subject matter rather well, I think — and you get two films that are telling stories in the same time period but yet feel like they’re worlds apart.
Then, come the movie's finale, they actually attempt to tie everything up with a happy ending in which all the characters learn a lesson and are forever changed because of it. While these two might have indeed felt some kind of change, having the audience leave the theater with a feel-good ending during a movie about racism feels grossly irresponsible.
Yes, it may be based on a true story and all, but so is nearly every film made in Hollywood these days. Thing is, the filmmakers still chose to turn this true story in particular into a film and then chose to tell it in this way.
Green Book is still going to win all kinds of awards at the Oscars this year, regardless of what I say. It seems to be striking some kind of chord with a lot of people, which I understand to some degree. It’s an ambitious film that features a couple of powerhouse performances and good cinematography.
It’s just not one that I felt strongly connected to or feel any real need to revisit. Intention can only get filmmakers so far and, from there, I found that Green Book kind of fell flat in it’s handling of these topics. This doesn’t feel like a movie that wants to actually discuss the serious topics that it addresses, but rather just present them to their audience in a way where they can still feel good about themselves when the credits roll.
That’s just my opinion though, you might feel different and that’s great! Watch the trailer for Green Book here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought about the movie!
'Green Book' - A well-intentioned mess [REVIEW]5