I always admire when individuals in film attempt to rebrand themselves or step outside of their comfort zones. For director Peter Farrelly, Green Book is his chance to move away from gross-out comedies and towards prestige pictures.
But although Green Book is incredibly well-intentioned and solidly photographed, it falters in creating a worthwhile message all the while indicating that Hollywood should probably stop making films that sugarcoat racism and bigotry.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Peter Farrelly
Written By: Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga, and Brian Hayes Currie
While he has time off from working as a bouncer at the Copacabana as the bar shuts down for repairs, Tony (Mortensen) is in need of some money to take care of his family for the time being. Through a few of his connections, he comes in contact with Dr. Don Shirley (Ali), a renowned piano player that is in need of a driver for his tour through the Deep South. Being a black man, Shirley knows that he’ll encounter some trouble through southern states, and he could use some muscle to get by unscathed.
Though Tony is a bit apprehensive about the position, he accepts, putting him on the road and away from his wife Dolores (Cardellini) and his family for two months at a time. As Tony and Don’s friendship grows on their arduous journey, Tony writes letters to Dolores — with a little help from Don, of course.
Peter Farrelly is Turning Over a New Leaf
You know Peter Farrelly as one part of the Farrelly Brothers directing duo that put out generational hits such as Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. But after their initial success together, the last decade or so hasn’t been as kind with movies like Dumb and Dumber To as well as sections of Movie 43. It’s safe to say that the Farrelly Brothers were getting a little stale. A change was needed.
Now Peter has turned gross-out comedies with an emotional core to prestige fare, tackling racism in the 1960’s with the help of stars Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.
I always love when we see creators attempt to change the narrative of their careers and move outside of their comfort zones. We’ve seen it many times in 2018 alone, highlighted by Jonah Hill’s wonderful directing debut in mid90s. The best art comes from people testing boundaries. Even though I was not a huge fan of Green Book, I wholeheartedly appreciate Peter Farrelly for trying something new. Truly!
Green Book is Unquestionably a Crowd Pleaser
Although Green Book didn’t strike the right chord with me, I can absolutely acknowledge that many will leave the theater with a smile; many individuals in my screening did just that. What Farrelly has done here is created a movie that is designed to spread cheer and kindness. Though it’s quite misguided in how it goes about doing this, as a rational person — or at least I hope I am — I could never bring myself to vehemently bash this movie. There’s a handful of movies that come to theaters every single year around the holidays that exist seemingly to ring in the festive cheer by themselves by tackling fairly tough subjects for as wide of an audience as possible.
Though we could fall down a rabbit hole of cynical ideas such as studios releasing these movies to take advantage of our fragile emotional states, I’d like to stay away from such thinking in this case. Green Book is consistently reaching out for kindness and tolerance in a time where we certainly need more of it.
Black and White in a Situation that Needed More Grey
And yet, it’s those same inclusive thoughts which want to bring everyone to the table where Green Book crumbles. Bigotry is a tough hang; Peter Farrelly and the rest of the staff responsible for the movie understand this notion. However, their solution to this problem was to take out a sander and smooth every jagged edge — no matter how minor — from this discussion of race and class structures. This issue manifests itself in just about every piece of the film, especially with each characterization.
Though Viggo Mortensen is having the time of this life as an obnoxious New York Italian, his character is simply that. Even more frustrating is the characterization of Mahershala Ali’s Don Shirley, who takes a figurative and literal backseat to Mortensen’s character in his own movie. In one of the most painful bits of irony I’ve seen in a movie in quite some time, a movie about breaking down stereotypes has a plethora of characters that are nothing but stereotypes. Not every film that tackles race needs to be a downer, nor does it have to be a vile, hard-R-rated display of misery. But when each character is wiped clean of nuance, the experience feels false.
You Might Leave the Theater With an Empty Feeling
Green Book succumbs to a lot of the problems of movies about racism that are captured through the eyes of a white character. Though more could be done to deepen the discussion, there’s much hand-holding so that the film remains safe, almost as if pushing buttons would anger the white establishment or some other silly idea. But without much depth or a strong sense of reality, Green Book feels shallow enough to the point where calling it a reverse on Driving Miss Daisy is a fair comparison. In fact, the similarities are a little too obvious. In the end, both films are about a white person that learns that racism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all. For me personally, that’s not very compelling storytelling.
There are glimmers of a more fascinating story in Greek Book; Farrelly starts to peel back the layers of these characters but quickly hits the eject button to steer the ship back to less choppy waters. Some of the more interesting pieces of this film are alluded to in a single scene and quickly forgotten in lieu of more sappy letter writing.
Green Book has a very rich color scheme and some quality performances, but in terms of eliciting some type of response out of me, it failed immensely. By playing it safe in all facets, I was never moved. Aside from the moderate chuckle every so often, I left Green Book without much to latch onto.
Green Book‘s first mistake was opening to a shot of the famous Copacabana, almost immediately triggering thoughts of Scorsese’s Goodfellas in my brain and momentarily distracting me from its own story. And yet, this bit works as a microcosm of my entire experience with this movie; I’ve seen films do this kind of story better.
I find it troubling that we consistently get movies that look at racism in the 20th century through the eyes of white characters while relegating those that are persecuted to the sideline, as if it’s more palatable and far less scary to do it that way. Instead, save your money for Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, a much better movie that handles the same tough subjects — along with a few other topics — with grace and far more love than Green Book could ever have hoped to have.
Thank you for reading! What do you think about Green Book? Comment down below!
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