Green Book: “Driving Miss Daisy” Meets “Guess Who is Coming to Dinner?”
Spoiler Alert: As usual, I will be hinting at different events that happened throughout the course of the movie. Any fans of Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortenson, music, long road trips, the guy who Directed “Dumb and Dumber,” and figuring out the events of a movie by themselves would probably be best off only reading the “Too Long; Didn’t Read” section and the “Oscar Watch” section.
TL;DR Score and Synopsis – 92/100 – A heartwarming, profound and all-around amazing film
TO THE REVIEW!
After coming out of nowhere to win the coveted audience choice awards at the Toronto Film Festival (among others), Director Peter Farrelly’s triumph over many heavy hitters such as “A Star is Born,” “Roma” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” turned heads across the movie industry. Farrelly’s newest work, “Green Book,” followed the inspiring journey of two friends from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds who toured through the deep south to showcase musical talents and improve American race relations.
In case you were wondering, the title referenced a piece of literature titled “the Negro Motorist Green Book” (wow times were different back then), which helped black people navigate through some of the more hostile areas of the country. In this book, they could find accommodations such as hotels, restaurants, and more without fear of persecution. Generally speaking, “Green Book” nicely captured the essence of the time period, with this reference to the book serving as a good litmus test into the research they conducted while helping this true story come to the big screen.
The two main characters in this movie, Tony Vallelonga/Lipp (Viggo Mortensen) and Dr. Richard Shirley (Mahershala Ali) possessed an incredible chemistry. Their banter never failed to entertain. They both showcased rich, dynamic developments over the course of the film as they each opened their eyes to the various ways of life around them. The two actors also performed marvelously across the board as well. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali showcased wonderful believability, range, and large-scale likeability. I rooted for these unlikely friends from start to finish.
Obviously, a film about a black pianist touring the deep south in the 1960s will cover race relations. In this case, it showcased the essence of racism in a nuanced way that led to some valuable insights. For starters, “Green Book” advocated through their work (in a subtler manner than the way I describe it) that even the people who accommodate for different races often possess long standing prejudices difficult to shake. Tony served as a prime example of this. He drove Dr. Shirley around everywhere, yet he still possessed views as to what constituted a “black” person and a “white” person in a… Well… Very black and white way. The prejudices extended not just to white people, but to black people as well. The way they judged Dr. Shirley could get harsh at times, which really helped highlight just how much of an outsider to society’s stereotypes he was.
Along with this theme, they also covered the importance of courageous behavior, while also highlighting the fact that no one true formula fits the mold to combatting racist behavior. Sometimes, they needed to show some dignity/self-respect, sometimes Tony needed to beat some sense into them, and sometimes they needed to show unity together in hopes that their family and friends would move away from previous prejudices and adapt to their newfound views.
Not only did this film cover race relations in a nuanced, interesting way; it also showcased one of the best exposés on the cultural disconnects between various classes in America, something that often gets overlooked in our society. The way the writing effectively contrasted the vocabulary of various income brackets made the movie incredibly fascinating to examine. It helped highlight many of the issues with peoples prejudices, while also showing how many barriers still exist for upward mobility. You could sense an inherent elitism amongst certain members of the upper class, Dr. Shirley included. This condescending behavior caused certain issues throughout the course of the film, but it also showcased that being in the top class does not necessarily constitute living a happier life.
Part of what made the dynamic between Tony and Dr. Shirley so awesome was not only the fact that they operated in completely different fashions, but that at the end of the day, the two of them learned a lot from each other. No matter where someone is from or their income bracket, people can always adapt to one another and broaden their horizons. That type of mentality needs to exist more in society, and “Green Book” brought that message home in a way that didn’t preach to us the importance of it, but instead SHOWED us how it could happen.
Not only did the film inform, it entertained. A lot of great moments occurred throughout the course of the film that made me laugh consistently from start to finish. From Tony’s brash humor, to Dr. Shirley’s lighthearted jabs at his letter writing skills, to the banter between the members of Tony’s family, I loved the dialogue in this film. You could argue that some of the writing was carried by the superb acting, but the movie flexed its writing chops incredibly well with the letters that Tony would send to his wife. I loved the evolution of his style with the influence of Dr. Shirley, and it was clear that the writers understood the styles/vocabularies of different classes well.
Walking out of “Green Book”, very little came to mind in terms of flaws. It sent me on a rollercoaster of emotions that I thoroughly enjoyed participating in. However, upon further examination, the film confused the living daylights out of me on one element and didn’t tie the knot on another.
In one scene (REAL SPOILER ALERTS, BE WARNED), Dr. Shirley gets detained by the police naked with one of his male symphony members. Now from what I gauged, the film implied that the artists may have been homosexuals. However, they never explored that pathway at all, and never even explicitly discussed it once. It was odd, but I overlooked it mostly because they did such a phenomenal job at exploring race and class divisions.
Furthermore (AGAIN, REAL SPOILER HERE), throughout the course of the movie, Dr. Shirley sprinkled in references to his fractured relationship with his brother. Tony encouraged him to reach out and try to make peace, but this never happened. I guess not everything in this film could end happily. Still, it left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.
At the end of the day, any moviegoer searching for a heartwarming film that brings people together in a big way will not leave “Green Book” disappointed. From its nuanced take on relationships between people, to the subtle shattering of various societal stereotypes, to its top notch acting, to its superior writing, to even its beautiful score, “Green Book” struck a real chord with me.
On a lighter note, Peter Farrelly’s last two movies he directed included masterpieces such as “Dumb and Dumber To” and “Movie 43,” a film considered by The Hollywood Reporter as “one of the worst films of all time.” How “Green Book” managed to surpass those sky-high expectations Farrelly set for himself blew me away. If this film re-enforced one idea in my head, it was this: while not everyone can direct a great film, a great film can be directed by anyone. I will be re-watching “Green Book” many times in the future and will be keeping a close eye on Peter Farrelly’ future work.
I would be stunned if this does not get the coveted “Best Picture” nomination. It ticked off all the boxes needed, which should give it roughly a 98 percent chance of recognition. Aside from the “Best Picture” nomination, here are some other categories they could get nominated in. I will rank these into three categories: serious contender, and possible nominations with little to no chance at winning.
Best Actor: Viggo Mortensen: His Italian Bronx demeanor electrified. It was near impossible not to like this character. Hilarious, vulnerable, loyal, dynamic: you name it. This year, best actor is STACKED, but he ought to be in serious consideration for this award.
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali: I loved his performance in “Moonlight,” but this time, he knocked it out of the park as Dr. Richard Shirley. He showed wonderful range, tons of credibility, and was an incredibly sympathetic character. This was arguably one of the best acting performances I have seen all year, and I would be stunned if someone else won this award over him. I will say he straddled the line between being a lead and a supporting actor, but either way, he killed it.
Best Original Screenplay: As mentioned before, the writing did a wonderful job at injecting believability into the various characters and was very articulate. It may not win, but it will be up there.
Best Original Score: The music in “Green Book” was immaculate. I have troubles deciphering what constitutes “original” and what does not. However, if this passes the threshold, it should get a nomination at the very least.
Best Director: Peter Farrelly does have a bit of a reputation for making low quality movies, so that might ruffle some feathers with various academy members. I hope he gets nominated though.
Best Production Design: They captured the essence of the time period incredibly well and diversified quite a bit between swanky hotels and rough areas. It did not stand out from many other movies this year (Black Panther comes to mind for example), but the setting was dynamic nonetheless.