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GREEN BOOK (20198) review

January 28, 2019

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written by: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie and Peter Farrelly
produced by: Jim Burke, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga
& Charles B. Wessler
directed by: Peter Farrelly
rated: PG-13 (for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material)
runtime: 130 min.
U.S. release date: November 6, 2018

 

It’s easy to understand why Green Book has found an audience. It’s the kind of crowd-pleaser that’s bombastic, feel-good, and pretends to tackle complicated subject matter in a way that doesn’t demand much of the viewer. It’s less easy to see why it’s found an audience in 2018 when the movie’s racial politics feel like they’re coming from the early 90s.

Charm counts for a lot, and Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali coast on their effortless charm throughout a story that deserves such a better script. But they’re playing characters who are so heavily affected they almost become cartoon characters, and it makes it hard to be invested in the relationship between them because it all feels so artificial. The “based on a true story” road trip movie about a black musician and his white driver/bodyguard through the deep south feels bizarrely dated, scripted as if it exists only to invite boomers to pat themselves on the back for solving racism without indulging ‘identity politics.’

 

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Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Mortensen) is the kind of salt-of-the-earth, rough bruiser with a heart of gold that gets a pass on his own racism because he’s ultimately a good guy. It makes sense that the character would be written in that kind of working class, flawed hero way given that that’s how a son would envision his father (and Vallelonga’s real-life son wrote the movie), but it’s a viewpoint that also makes Don Shirley (Ali) vague and inscrutable. By writing in racist southerners as the explicit villains of the film, and Tony as the problematic but pure ally, the film is able to completely skirt the issue of racism as a systemic problem that exists in the northern states too.

It’s entirely without real life tension, a movie that avoids the reality of a scene where Shirley has to deal with the racism of Tony’s family, while explicitly showing us that Tony is the kind of person who starts off the film being unwilling to even keep a glass in his house that has been touched by a black person.

As a film, “Green Book” is perfectly competent, hitting the beats one expects out of a crowd pleaser. But despite the charisma of its leads (and Linda Cardellini, who is probably giving the most well-rounded performance in a nothing role as Tony’s wife), the film keeps jarring you out of enjoying it with the sheer incredulity about what’s actually happening in the movie. This is a film where a white character has to teach a Black character how to be more Black, by listening to Little Richard and eating fried chicken.

 

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RATING: *1/2

 

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