Green Book (2019)
D. Peter Farrelly
Minus the cursing, Green Book is one of those movies that could have been made in the early 60s when its story takes place. As such, the reaction to it has been more interesting than any mere movie can be in a cultural landscape reduced to rubble, where everyone is bound to be judged by the color of their skin and anyone who suggests character might have content is probably a fascist.
By modern (meaning primitive) lights, Green Book gets everything wrong, suggesting bad people are redeemable, that almost anyone can grow and learn given the opportunity, and Utopian ideals might be harder lived than dreamed.
Simple stuff, but nearly everyone who commented for a mainstream media outlet felt the necessity of preaching to their chosen choir. And the movie winning best picture at the Oscars just made them double down on the makeup of the Academy (too white, too old, too male–all the wins in recent years for black actors–including Mahershala Ali here, taking home a second consecutive win–and Mexican directors having been wiped out in a single instance of nostalgia for Driving Miss Daisy ethics and Martin Luther King’s old-fashioned New Testament “dream,” now as outmoded as the Founding Fathers whose creed he dared to summon).
But you’re here so you know all that.
How was the movie?
Excellent and glad you asked. Green Book goes after its simple targets with gusto and hits every single one. I’m grateful to my nephew and his wife for suggesting it when they visited because I probably wouldn’t have gone to see it on my own and I would have hated to have missed it. It makes me wonder if the ability to make a fine entertainment about the old, aspirational America is more common than I assume. It’s not every day a movie makes me feel like I should get out more.
The acting of the two principles (Ali, as the cultured black man and Viggo Mortensen as the vulgar white dude) is as good as advertised and, since it’s essentially a two-man drama, all it needs is a good script to give the project wings.
It’s a good script and the result is a grand popular entertainment that gets its messages across without making you feel you’ve been doused in holy water.
It’s the last that grates on the intelligentsia of course. One can almost hear them wrestling with the dilemma in the dark night of the Crit-Illuminati’s collective soul: People might enjoy something like this and be led astray by the temptation to feel as though we’ve reached the mountaintop–how can we put a stop to it!
If you want to see a good movie about race relations in the south during the last days of Jim Crow, and how two men dealt with it in a tricky, realistic situation, this is one I highly recommend. It’s better made and less tract-like than In the Heat of the Night or Do the Right Thing, and, oddly enough, feels more contemporary.
Beware, though: You might emerge from the experience thinking our problems are not insurmountable. It’ll be a good feeling, but take care who you share it with, lest Spike Lee be tempted to give some cross-burner your address.