Hollywood feel good down to a tee. Green Book is not going to go down in history as one of the most important films of all time which to many has made its Oscar win questionable. However it does succeed in providing what it set out to provide and deserves praise for that alone, even if it lacks in ways other films during last year’s season did not.
Venturing on his first solo directorial project Peter Farrelly won over the academy with Green Book. Starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali the film struggles to be much more than a typical Hollywood feel good Oscar movie but in turn similarly demonstrates the quality that such products can showcase. With strong performances from both leads and a exceedingly professional script, Green Book lives up to the promise but sadly does not even come close to exceeding any expectations.
In 1962 New York Tony Vallelonga (portrayed by Mortensen) works as a bouncer for a classy nightclub. Seemingly doing his best to avoid criminal work Toni is still an opportunist who’s carefree nature has proven useful to local nightclub owners. Having made a name for himself as a man who is able to deal with problems he is asked to an interview with Dr. Don Shirley (a highly respected black jazz pianist portrayed by Ali) as a driver and personal assistant for a tour of the deep south Shirley is embarking on. Accepting the job Tony and Shirley embark on a road trip in which both discover something about themselves and in turn are more complete people by the end.The film is a typical feel good road movie. Both characters begin the film as unlikely partners but learn to understand each other’s views of the world and eventually develop a strong bond that transcends their own backgrounds. We’ve seen it before hundreds of times and whilst the formula is dry at this point it is hard to resist the charms of Ali’s and Mortensen’s performances. Both actors clearly put their heart and souls into their characters and Ali deservedly won the Oscar for his performance but it is unlikely anyone will remember this movie before too long due to its plot.
The script is full of funny quips and equally heart wrenching moments that are delivered very well throughout. The chemistry that comes through from both characters is made most prevalent by their exceedingly different dialect. Tony was raised in the same neighbourhood he lives in now, surrounded by the same people. He is typically (and sometimes stereo-typically) working class and is not afraid to stand up for himself. Don Shirley on the other hand is practically an aristocrat who never eats with his fingers and has a blanket with him at all times when he is sat in his car. Their polar opposition to each other creates some quite hilarious moments of misunderstanding that bring out the chemistry between the two actors and their unique positions allow for a-typical points of view on the multitude of situations the pair get themselves into on their journey. However none of it will surprise you. Everything that happens in Green Book feels like it was almost cultivated in order to win an Oscar. The fact that it was developed in a system that loves nothing more than to pat itself on the back for the smallest of variations from its own tropes does say a lot about Hollywood today and not in a good way.
Visually the film is quite unremarkable. Every scene in the car is shot from the same 3-5 angles throughout the entire film which would make it drag were it not for the excellent performances from both actors. Similarly throughout the film follows a play by the numbers cinematography style which is disappointing considering Director of Photography Sean Porter’s previous work on quite visually stunning films such as Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier, 2015). Understandably though the film is not meant to be visually spectacular and is instead intended as a soft feel good watch, an audience that Hollywood often panders to, especially during Oscar season.
In terms of the films themes and politics, there has been much outcry, especially since the film’s Best Picture win last month, as to whether it was really deserving of that win when up against films such as BlacKKKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018) and Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018) which go a long way to deal with themes of institutional racism and celebrations of African Culture respectively, both of which are in short supply in Hollywood and always have been.
Hollywood unfortunately continues to develop along a path of White dominance when one would hope that it would have moved beyond that by now. Green Book was not the best film that came out in 2018, not by a long way. Nor was it the most progressive film that come out in 2018, not by an even longer way. All Green Book‘s win proves is that The Academy is quite happy to hold onto its preconceived notions of representation and will sooner pat itself on the back for what many are considering to be barely a step in the right direction (many even going as far to say it is a step in the wrong direction) than for, firstly, the best film of the year or secondly, the most progressive film of the year. Green Book was neither and it is understandable why a lot of people are outraged by its win.
Putting that aside however Green Book does succeed in being the cheesy Sunday afternoon Hollywood feel good film that it aims to be. Even with the political blow-back from the film’s Oscar win, it doesn’t fall short of the mark it was aiming for. It’s win however does beg the question, is that the mark it should have been aiming for in the first place?
Written by Alfie Smith