Saturday, February 23, 2019


On the eve of Hollywood's biggest night, it felt appropriate that I finally weigh in on one of the presumed Oscar frontrunners. That controversial film is none other than Peter Farrelly's "Green Book", nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Inspired by a true story, this dramedy follows two men on a life-changing road trip that harkens back to awards contenders of yesteryear.

Indeed, to paraphrase by mother's first impression of the film, "Green Book" is like one of those "old-time" movies. Starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen in roles that could have been played by Sidney Poitier and any of the notable Italian-American stars of the 20th century respectively, it's a message movie about racial harmony between a black man and a white man. Ali plays esteemed pianist Don Shirley, who is embarking on dangerous tour through the Jim Crow South and requires a driver/bodyguard to help him along the way. In steps Mortensen's Tony Lip, a brutish - and racist - Italian-American bouncer who is out of a job when his club closes down. Due to his reputation for handling unruly situations, Lip's services are solicited for Shirley's tour. And after some hesitation, Lip decides to take the gig, as this pair of New Yorkers head down South and strike up an unlikely friendship.

Much has been said about the film's old-fashioned depiction of race relations, where racism is essentially "solved" through communication and walking a mile in another person's shoes. Director Peter Farrelly even said as much his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. Understandably, the film's detractors took issue with this simplification of America's tramautic racial history.

Yet when I watched the film, I found myself surprisingly taken with its story. Although I concur that its inevitably happy ending is perhaps overly idealistic, the road it takes to get there is filled with many bumps along the way which truthfully reflect the pervasive intolerance of this time and place. Told in an episodic structure as the duo makes their way through the scheduled gigs, Shirley's experience is marred by a series of humiliations, one of which turns violent.

Suffice it to say, I didn't find it to be such an offensive portrayal of American history. Instead of approaching it as a broader social commentary, I accepted it as a more modest tale of two men whose friendship defied all expectations. Without a doubt, my favorable response to the film was aided significantly by the captivating duo at the heart of the story. The contrasting performances from Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen truly make the film, with the former's poise and eloquence clashing with Mortensen's broad, crass characterization. Together, their chemistry is a "yin and yang" that keeps you engaged in the story and invested in the characters. Ultimately, "Green Book" won't be making any all-time best lists, but I found a sense of comfort in watching two talented actors at work. Outside of all the noise that is awards season, this is harmlessly middlebrow entertainment that doesn't deserve all this animosity.