PG-13, but there's so much language. So much language. Like, it's adorably used. It is so odd that we can forgive language if it is good-natured. That's an odd thing that we kind of allow. Tony shows that he's uneducated and crass, so he swears a lot. But really, we allow the swearing because the movie is aimed at all audiences. Again, the MPAA doesn't really monitor the content of movies, but just establishes who the movie is meant for. There's some violence and some sexuality, but the sexuality is mostly off camera. Characters are handcuffed naked, but nothing is really seen.
DIRECTOR: Peter Farrelly
Wow. Broad strokes here. I mean, geez. This really lines up with everything I think about the 2019 Oscars. So much here is a repetition of things we've seen done before and better. Again, there is nothing really wrong with Green Book. But I used to write the phrase "paint-by-numbers" a lot. I don't think I've seen such a flagrant example of paint-by-numbers filmmaking. On our podcast, I literally (pun intended) predicted every beat that this movie was going to make accurately. I think you could. I'm not exactly a psychic. This movie is the racial film equivalent of meatloaf. It's comfort food. The problem is that stories about race shouldn't be a balm. They shouldn't be too comforting, because the problem that stems out of that is that we think that we solved the problem.
Again, I'm charged right now. I'm really standing behind BlacKkKlansman right now. We have two / three movies about race right now. But while the other one(s) don't really challenge us, BlacKkKlansman asks us not to be complacent. But I do want to look at Green Book as a movie. Green Book reminds us a lot that formulaic filmmaking works for a reason. People like formula. Sometimes, we just don't want to be challenged. As snobby as I am, there are times that I don't want to be challenged. I want to sit back on the couch and just watch a charming movie. That's kind of what happened here. I actually really enjoyed Green Book, kind of in the same way that I enjoy Forrest Gump. There's something that goes on with a movie like Green Book. It is the safe movie. It has a message. That message has value and weight. But Green Book might be another white savior narrative. I want to give the movie way more credit than that. There's a lot of value that comes with the fact that it is based on a true story. I'm interested in reading the true story and finding out what did and didn't actually happen. But there were some really cringy moments in the movie. I'm kind of taken aback. I know. I'm getting offended and it isn't even my culture. But there are a lot of moments when Viggo Mortensen has to teach Mahershala Ali on how to be black. This goes as far as to teach him how to eat fried chicken. It's cute. Honestly, it's adorable and I know why it is in the movie. It is a tender moment (pun unintended) where the two men bond. But this also creates a problematic character arc for Dr. Shirley. Dr. Shirley has defined himself as his own man. Tony Lip is a character that is the product of his culture. He is deeply Italian, to the point of being a stereotype. He has moments where he thinks for himself, which establishes his moral code. That's all well and good. But Dr. Shirley has been free of his culture. Instead, he defines the elements of his culture that he wishes to embrace. His apartment is decored in artifacts from Africa. He chooses to dress a certain way and present himself in a certain way. Yes, it could be seen as pretentious. But it can also be read as personal and unique. Instead of a culture only being one thing, Dr. Shirley represents diversity. It's not like he is acting white. I don't know if Shirley ever sells that. Admittedly, he is very palatable for his white hosts. That's a bit of an issue. But to say that all African Americans have to eat the same food and like the same music is a bit of a problem. Shirley never abandons his sense of self, but rather becomes more accepting of others' senses of self. This is how it worked out because this is the ideal narrative. Tony Lip is not a character who works in subtlety. Tony Lip is telling Dr. Shirley to act more black. It ends up being a bonding moment and it is fun, but the message is that the white driver wants him to act differently so he knows how to act around him.
I'm really concerned because this movie is kind of pushing Viggo Mortensen as Best Actor. Really? He's not great in this. I mean, he's not bad. He's doing exactly what Peter Farrelly, a man who is known for directing with broad strokes, is asking him to do. There's nuance behind the eyes and in some of the smaller moments. But Mortensen's Tony Lip is a stereotype. I honestly could play that part exactly the same. It's not at all challenging. Tony Lip, even in the small moments, is still over the top and kind of huge. I think I may be focusing on Mahershala Ali for Best Actor. He seems like one thing for most of the film. He seems aloof and distant from all of the other characters. But Ali's Dr. Shirley has a lot of shifts in character. He's a character that keeps it together and prides himself on keeping it together. He's got pride to the point of excess. But often through the movie, these walls come a-tumblin' down at a moment's notice. He kind of has this sundowning attitude where the world falls apart if it is night. These breakdowns are not uniform. They look like lots of different things. I really like that. His cold face stays the same throughout the movie. But then when he falls apart, it is earnest. Ali has to find the core of each of those breakdowns and it shows. On the patio, he's lost in the distance. He simply looks like a broken man. When he's at the bar getting accosted, there's a desperation to find the man who can distance himself from the abuse that he's getting. Sometimes, it is the cold man who is having the breakdown and the two personalities fuse together. That's when the movie really soars. Ali's analysis of loneliness and depression is what kept me coming back to the story. Viggo Mortensen is a very talented actor. He's played similar roles to Tony Lip before. I now actually really want to watch A History of Violence and Easter Promises again because I know that he has this character on lockdown in other places. I kind of want to blame Peter Farrelly. I don't want to hate on him. I like the idea that he's branching out and trying drastically different things from his normal fare. But Tony is too easy. Part of this ties into the idea that this movie isn't meant to challenge us. The second that Mortensen opens his mouth with that Bronx accent, we know exactly who Tony Lip is. There's character defining moments in the movie, like when he dumps the glasses in the trash can, that only really are meant to provide background. But honestly, this is a minute into the movie and all I could think was "I get it. Go on." If Mortensen gets it for Green Book, it's making up for something else.
So what if this wasn't up for an Academy Award? Would I like it? Yeah. But I also enjoy eating at Bob Evans from time-to-time. It's a drama that has jokes. Those jokes mostly land because of the caliber of the performers who are performing these jokes. I laughed when I was supposed to laugh. I even like both of the characters, especially by the end. But there is one moment that was SPOILED for me that I am going to SPOIL for you now: The end of the movie. The end of the movie is too idealistic. Dr. Shirley's life was probably way harder than the movie allows it to be and that's a bit of a tragedy. It had a moment that let us know that they had crossed into the North. A police officer helps them change a tire in the snow when the day before, a Southern police officer arrested Dr. Shirley without cause. I get that the South during this time was mostly pretty terrible. It's the title of the film, after all. But to assume that when he got North, everything would be daisies, that's ridiculous. The movie ends with Shirley going to Tony's apartment for Christmas Eve. His entire family is there and Tony even has to correct someone in the group about racist language. It looks like there is going to be tension between the family and Shirley when he arrives. But it's almost like the entire family escorted Dr. Shirley through the South because they treat him like a member of the family. This is the same family that all hung out in the house because they didn't trust two black guys. Tony threw away glasses that people of color had used because they were unsanitary. How in the world did everyone get the memo to be open minded by the end? That's absolutely absurd. Racial tensions are solved because one guy opened his eyes to the struggles of the marginalized. That's the problem with a movie like this. It makes everything way too simple. I'm not saying not to teach the story about Dr. Shirley. No. Please, tell this story. But also challenge us with this. Compare it to the events of today. Remind us that racism is still a thing and it isn't something that can be swept away with white oafishness and buffoonery. It's too easy to claim what is happening here to be okay.
The good news is that I now own the movie? I mean, it sounds like I really hated it. It's functional. It's a good time. It's something good to watch with my parents and in-laws. But I also kind of need more. The entire Academy Awards roster is a series of safe bets when we should be getting groundbreaking film. Green Book is just another entry into the anesthetizing kinds of films about race that we keep getting as Oscar bait.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.