In a year where films about the persecution of black people—made by black directors—kicked and elbowed their way into the mainstream en masse (relatively), it’s only natural that the movie that has garnered the most nationwide attention is Green Book, told from the perspective of a white man and directed by one of the Farrelly brothers.
Green Book is a crowd-pleaser of a film, this generation’s Driving Miss Daisy, a comedy-drama about an upper class black man with a blue collar white driver who faces racism as he tours around the Deep South in the 1960s. Entertaining, heartwarming, and surprisingly funny, Green Book has a lot of things going for it—minus the rage and fear you hear voiced today in other mediums.
Viggo Mortensen is excellent as Tony Lip, a good-natured yet hardened Italian-American with a mouth that talks and a less-than-positive view of blacks. Nonetheless, he is hired to drive, represent, and protect Dr. Don Shirley (played equally well by Mahershala Ali), a prominent black musician and intellectual, while on tour. Over time, they bond and become lifelong friends.
It’s a classic story of redemption—that of a somewhat racist white person into a less racist person. As good as Ali is, and despite arguments that he is just as much a lead actor as Mortensen, his character is a secondary one, an interesting individual in his own right but who, aside from learning to appreciate fried chicken and to be a little less snobby, doesn’t evolve significantly over the course of the story. Green Book is a classic story of redemption, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this movie has any broad proclamations to make about race, race relations, or equality—at least not any that haven’t been established long before in other similar, easy-to-consume fare.
Those aspects aside, Green Book is a well-made, well-intentioned movie that is among the better of the year. For this production to come from Peter Farrelly, who arguably hasn’t made a good movie since the beginning of this millennium and certainly not a great movie since the 1990s (Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary), is all the more impressive; the movie looks fantastic and checks all the boxes of a traditional Oscar contender.
Even still, it’s the performances and the chemistry between the two stars that make the movie what it is. Green Book may not be the progressive film about race that it wants to be or that the majority of white people (for the record, I’m white) will perceive it as (watch Blindspotting, one of the year’s most criminally overlooked movies, for that), but it’s nonetheless a highly entertaining and respectable film that deserves many of the plaudits it has received.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.