During the era of deeply polarizing political times with charges of racism running rampant against the current President and his administration, one could say so many films released in 2018 dealt with issues of racism. However Hollywood has always made films about such topics, and most of them have been made prominently by white filmmakers and producers. Often these titles have been charged with holding the “white savior” archetypes. Titles include “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, “Driving Miss Daisy”, “The Blind Side”, “The Help”, and “The Green Mile”.
One could easily dismiss these films as being patronizing and even condescending, especially that all of these titles involve have been huge Oscar films that are often very lightweight, feel-good entertainment that wraps everything up in a neat pretty little bow. One could also argue that these films have helped shaped a culture that is more tolerant and less racist than any generation in our nation’s history. 2018 has proven if anything that the topics of racism are essential, and that we remarkably had more titles by black and other minority filmmakers than any year in cinematic history.
One could argue that it’s regressive that Peter Farrelly’s “Green Books” deals with the same feel-good white savior cliches that hold the same tropes of other feel good entertainment. Like the other films everything is wrapped up neatly and satisfying at the end, and there is a lot of controversy surrounding this film today.
First and foremost, I don’t believe any filmmaker should be banned from making any other subject that they desire, and that only certain filmmakers of a race can make a film about subjects. I truly embrace creative freedom and liberty because art is about the power of expression. While it is true that a white man cannot know the absolute truth depths of racism and what minorities experience from it with our current systematic criminal and judicial system, along with other forms of micro aggressions, and other prejudices, along with implemented laws that have harmed and targeted minorities with it’s endless and ungainly War on Drugs, a white filmmaker can certainly still hold empathy and be affected, and to some degree, hold strong feelings about the subjects, and turn these feelings into their art.
Secondly, certain detractors of the film have pointed out that the way the film ends implies that Peter Farrelly must believe racism has been solved in our country, or that isn’t as bad today since we have abolished the old horrid Jim Crowe Laws that the film examines. This only suggests that audiences are naive and that they have no thoughts of the subject. I think that anyone that watches “Green Book” who strongly opposes racism will have their views reassured, and anyone who watches the film that is racist, or who might hold racist tendencies could walk away thinking about their thoughts. However, no one will be walking out thinking that racism doesn’t exist today.
Lastly, “Green Book” is indeed a lightweight “message” Hollywood film, and that is fine. There is no doubt that film is engaging and one could argue sentimental and even preachy. However “Green Book” succeeds better than more than many other films recently touching on these subjects.
“Green Book” explores the friendship between a white man and a black, in the early 1960’s during the rise of the civil rights movement. It’s told from the perspective of an Italian man, Tony Vallelonga, or Tony Lip for short played to perfection by Viggo Mortensen. He’s a very rough and tough guy, a bouncer at a night club who finds himself out of work after he splits up a fight, and beats up a man who happens to hold a lot of power in the community that ends up shutting the club down for renovation. Looking for work and even going to desperate levels of earning money by joining a hot dog eating contest for easy cash, Tony ends up being contacted by a musician Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), who ends up offering Tony a job to the deep south so he can go on tour.
Tony is shown to be a racist when is more open-minded wife (Linda Cardellini) gives them water to quince their thirst after two black plumbers fix their repairs. Tony ends up picking up the drinking glasses and throws them away, only for his wife to discover then later in the trash, and she takes them out. Tony ends up taking the job with Dr. Don Shirley due to a great offer of cash that the job entails. Tony is a man of honor, and he will honor the job no matter what.
“Green Book” ends up becoming a road movie with two men sharing great exchanges together. Doc is very meticulous and prefers things to be a certain way, while Tony is more boorish and holds no filter in what he says. They both challenge each others mannerism, and their challenges at times lead to some uproariously funny moments, and other times they lead to complexity and ultimately sincerity.
There are some raw and difficult moments in the film where Doc becomes a victim to prejudice and racism, and Tony must decide and react what is right. Director and co-writer, Farrelly, who is the one half of a brother team that has made such hilarious comedies like “Dumb and Dumber”, “Kingpin”, and “There’s Something About Mary”, once again merges the hilarity with the
Moments come up wherein Doc becomes a victim of racism (we learn that he specifically chose to tour the deep south in order to challenge these beliefs), and Tony must react and decide what’s right. Director and co-writer Farrelly, one half of a brother team that made things like Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, and he knows a thing or two about sprinkling humor with the poignant. The pacing of the film is absolutely impressive, as he turns a 130-minute movie into something vastly entertaining that never feels too heavy handed or boring, and you absolutely love the chemistry between Mortensen and Ali here, in which Ali is the current front-runner to winning his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar, the other one being for Barry Jenkins 2016 masterpiece “Moonlight”.
Ali’s performance here is very internal, elegant, and Viggo Mortensen is great as a a slobbering and brash, foul mouthed, short tempered Italian who ends up holding a rewarding and well earned arc in the film.
Then there is the “green book” of the title, a piece of history that was a guidebook by Victor Hugo Green that was made for black travelers who traveled to the deep south that outlined hotels, restaurants, and gas stations that were segregated and African-American friendly in the racist South. The book is a sad reminder of our nations past sins, but just imagine how many lives were probably saved due to this. Of course, if whites were traveling with blacks, just as Tony and “Doc” are int he film, they were forced to split up depending on geographical areas.
While the green book is now gone, racism still exists today, and lets hope a film like this can come across even more viewers that can think twice about just how awful racism is.