Green Book (2018)

Directed by Peter Farrelly

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Well sh*t I liked it, next to Paddington 2, this had the sweetest final shot of any movie I’ve seen this year.

Green Book feels like one of those movies that might be trying a little too hard to say something that’s been said before.  It’s a movie that, in the trailers, feels self-important and grandiose, an Oscar play for the studio and the people involved.  It’s at times showy and perhaps even melodramatic, and it features somewhat broad character types in order to more clearly make a point about how racism is bad.

I say all this because I think I’m feeling a little defensive about how much I enjoyed this movie.  It sometimes feels tired and might have one too many of those moments in which we meet a white southern man who seems nice enough (“there’s no way he’s a racist”) only for him to turn on Dr. Shirley (Mahershala Ali) so that we then say, “well damn, he is racist.”  These are scenes that you get in every movie like this, and onscreen it may feel like the movie thinks it is making some big, damning point about how racism isn’t always so in your face.  Except in this movie, again like most of these types of movies, it is in your face.  The racism of Green Book is loud, showy and impossible to miss.

The racists in Green Book are either violent and antagonistic, initiating conflict where there otherwise was none, or they’re superficially kind and quickly self-righteous.  These are characters who shake Dr. Shirley’s hand and then inform him he can’t eat at the restaurant at which he’s performing or use the restroom twenty feet away from his piano.  It seems as though we are meant to be surprised that such apparent kindness is soon followed by unapologetic bigotry, but it’s never surprising.  We know that’s how these characters operate.

Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) is certainly one of these overt racists, but because he’s otherwise kind (in certain ways) we forgive such transgressions.  His bigotry, we’re made to believe, is a sign of what he has yet to learn, and since we anticipate his eventual transformation we forgive him already.

The reason I enjoyed Green Book as much as I did was for the simple friendship between the two men.  I found it endearing and tremendously sweet by the end, and though it’s centered around racial differences and prejudices, the reason I think the story works has little to do with such focus.

These more wonderful moments are smaller and more amusing.  They concern cultural, class differences between the two men, and in addition to race, all these differences just help us see what they must work through to identify the person on the other side.  Like with any meaningful relationship in one’s life there is the initial meeting, seeing someone through your own hardened filter followed by the transcendence of such subjectivity and seeing them for who they are.  It’s a sweet tale that, if done well, is always in fashion.

Again I didn’t really want to like this movie.  It’s good ‘ol fashioned Oscar Bait, and I’m often ready to disregard any movie with such transparent ambitions.  And yet Green Book executes this pretty well.  The more I think about it the more I feel this way thanks only to the final scene.  Most such movies would seem to end in a wider shot, with the crane lifting the camera up and away, possibly with an absurdly beautiful sunset.  These final shots are like trophies the studio awards itself, the bow on its little project sure to bring them all the glory.

Green Book, however, ends on a quiet, tight embrace, and I fell for it godammit.

Up Next: White Rock (1977), Roma (2018), The Favourite (2018)

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