In the past few weeks, I have watched several films of varying quality, from The Lego Movie to Uncharted to Moonfall, Turning Red and X. But Green Book is the only one I honestly didn’t want to finish. Theoretically it should be better than at least two of the five mentioned films, but I at least wasn’t exhausted while watching any of the other films.
In 1962, Tony Lip (played by Viggo Mortensen) seeks employment while his workplace is closed. He ends up taking a job driving Dr. Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali), an African American pianist, during his musical tour throughout the country, most of which being in the deep south. The two bond as they get a look at the south’s hospitality toward African Americans.
Technically, the film does a competent job. The acting is good, with a special mention to Mahershala Ali as Dr. Shirley, who’s performance I quite enjoyed. Viggo Mortensen also did a good job as well, although this is far from his best performance. The acting as a whole was on point though not really exceptional in many areas. Additionally, the production value was pretty good as well, with good sets, costumes and music.
So why did I want to stop watching? The story was painfully predictable: Green Book is just another traditional Hollywood film about racism. We have a white guy who is somewhat prejudiced but redeemable getting in close proximity to a black man, which allows him to see the oppression that they suffer and the white guy stops being racist as a result, while giving some development to the black guy. I should add that the black man in question is well-educated and well-mannered to seem “un-intimidating” to white audiences. Does it say anything about race? Well, aside from racism being bad, not really. Maybe it says that you can get out of jail if you have a connection to the U.S. Attorney General, but that should be a given. Or that restaurants/businesses shouldn’t discriminate based on race, but we have so many other works that say the same thing. Or that we shouldn’t stereotype, but Tony Lip is practically a walking Italian stereotype. The racism in the film? Stuff that has been done better in other films. The film wants to have its audience feel good, and it delivers on this but gives nothing else.
The writing is weak and inoffensive. The characters don’t do much, or really challenge the audience much. Dr. Shirley is the best character, and is the only one adding any depth to this film. Shirley is calm, polite and dignified, often challenging Tony on his actions, calling him out on numerous occasions about his more impulsive behaviors but is also willing to help Tony write better letters to send home. I feel like the film should have been written by someone like him, as he would have added interesting nuance into the film. Instead this feels more like the film was written by someone like Tony Lip in that it has little depth, and just as little interesting things in it.
I have to be honest, I was not looking forward to watching this film. It is the skippable Oscar bait film that usually wins maybe one award if one area was good enough. So how did this win best picture, the highest award, over Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, which said a lot more about racial issues and politics and was a better film? Or Black Panther, which presented a more interesting world, tackled race with more finesse, and was a better film? Or Roma, which won the Best Director Oscar that year, while this film wasn’t even nominated for it? Because….. Uhh… It had some racial elements in a time when the Academy was dealing with racial criticisms and it didn’t offend the old men who filled the majority of its voters in a year that had no real frontrunner for the top prize. Honestly, if this was their best pic, maybe they should have just given the award to Into The Spiderverse, as it did a better job in pretty much every aspect while also doing something that was unique to it and it alone.
Green Book is a weak film. While it does well enough to be technically competent, it does little else. The story is predictable and the film is shallow. It brings nothing new or unique to film or to any racial discussions. It is only memorable because it won the Best Picture Oscar and is otherwise a film that will be forgotten amid dozens of other films like it, like Driving Miss Daisy for example. Aside from some controversies, there isn’t much else to say about the film and quite frankly, I don’t want to give the film any more time than necessary.