Saturday, February 2, 2019
OSCARS 2019: Green Book (2018)
Driving Miss Daisy” or “Forrest Gump.” You'd think, in our hyper-woke times, prestige flicks like this would be totally discredited. Yet Joe Movie-Goer still loves them and Academy voters are apparently included in that number, resulting in garbage like “The Help” or “The Blind Side” grabbing both nominations and awards. 2018's rendition of this old tune is “Green Book,” a movie that scored five Oscar nominations despite the fact I have yet to find an actual movie fan who likes it.
The film was written by “Psycho Cop Returns” star and Islamophobe Nick Vallelonga, about his father, Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga. In the early 1960s, Tony is fired from his job at a night club following an altercation. In need of work, he interviews to be a driver for a “doctor.” That doctor turns out to be Don Shirley, a classical jazz pianist and a black man. Shirley is embarking on a tour of concert venues in the Deep South. Despite being a racist himself, and it meaning several months away from his family, Tony agrees to take the job. On their journey, Tony and Shirley become friends and encounter the struggles of the time.
If “Green Book” was just feel-good twattle about the power of friendship, that would be one thing. Within that utterly pedestrian framework, the film tries to tell a story about racism in 1960s America. It, of course, does this from the perspective of a racist white guy. Was the story of a black, gay man being among the most respected pianist of his time not cinematic enough for you, Peter Farrelly? Because Vallelonga is the movie's hero. He's the one who protects Shirley from the cops when his homosexuality is uncovered. He's the one who stands up to racist highway patrolmen, drunken good ol' boys, or the business owners of the time insisting on segregating Shirley. When Don takes a stand for himself on Christmas Eve, when a club he's playing at won't let him eat there, it's because Tony has taught him to be brave. (This is immediately followed by a sequence where they eat at a black restaurant, Shirley performing in the rowdy jazz band. Cause, you see, he's learned to appreciate the common folks.) Instead of depicting the unique challenges in Shirley's own life, “Green Book” celebrates Vallelonga for moving on from his racism, for learning not to be a piece of shit.
Yet, despite all this, some of the baffling praise “Green Book” has received isn't totally misplaced. Mahershala Ali is good as Don Shirley. He's a tightly wound man, with secrets of his own and hidden pain. Ali shows all of this without any showy overacting or blown-up physicality. It's the kind of restraint and command of emotional manners that won Ali his first Oscar and may win him another. It's a technique Viggo Mortensen probably should've try. As Tony, Mortensen inhabits every Italian-American stereotype you can think of. (Yes, he does the hand thing.) The New Yawk accent he puts on is exaggerated and ridiculous. It's an utterly grotesque performance, from an actor who is usually much better than this. Mortensen creates, not a character, but a caricature. But, I'll say this much, the cartoonish delivery of clunky comedic lines did make me laugh once or twice.
the roadguide it takes its title from – because they make them feel better about themselves. “Hey, if this racist slob can learn to treat a person of another race like an actual human being, so can I.” And, whatever, there's an obvious market in talking down to the “I can't be racist, I have a black friend!” audience. But why is deeply middlebrow nonsense like this reaping in the awards and picking up nominations? In a time when America is more divided by ideology than ever before, movies that make racist uncles feel warm and fuzzy should not get a chance at the highest honor in Hollywood. [4/10]