So, let me get up on the soap box here for just a second ::steps up, clears throat::
It may be because I have inhaled as much of the non-fiction of James Baldwin the past two years, or that I have simply paid halfway attention to whats going on in this part of this decade, or that I live in the general area that Tony Lips did (the tri-state area in the North-East), but I think Green Book underestimates the racism of the North at the time. It's often been a misconception, usually by white people (and maybe at one time when I was much younger), but just because you live in the North and around liberal areas doesn't mean that things are less racist.
Indeed, it's that more subdued racism (what MLK dubbed those "white moderates") that make a lot of trouble. From socio-economic segregation of a sort - notice that in the Bronx neighborhood Tony's family and friends live there are no black people, and the "No Coloreds" signs are not up but they're just... Not there, and not allowed. Not really, anyway.
To the movie's credit, it does touch on the fact that there is this racism that is there with working-class Italians (not that it's any great revelation in American cinema - Do the Right Thing was made decades ago and dealt with Italian caricatures, literally making pizza, being face to face with African American people with much more insight and drama/comedy etc); there is one telling beat where Tony comes home as two black handymen are working on the Lips' family kitchen, and they're given some lemonade in two glasses. When they leave, Lips puts the two glasses in the trash (and later, Linda Cardellini's wife takes them back out). This is good visual storytelling that makes the point clear: once Lips gets tasked with the plot of Green Book, which is to drive the good Doctor (Mahershala Ali) across the mid-west and deep South, there will be problems but not just with those they come across.... But then it's kinda-sorta dropped for a "feel-good" movie about race relations.
I don't know about you, but in 2018, living in just everything that's going on now (in daily news, a campus in Mississippi got vandalized with numerous nooses hung about for tomorrows Senate vote for example), I'm not sure if that's what we (white people, even more than blacks or other minorities) need to see. All this said, the movie does a good job, at least for the first two thirds, of getting an entertaining buddy story between these two Characters, with a capital "C."
And to the actors' credit, Ali and Mortensen tap into the cliches of a, well, bouncer at the Coppacabana and classically trained PHD pianist (fluent in multiple languages, which does pay off at a key point by the way, nice writing), and whenever they are on screen I believed the actors in what they had to emote or tried to do. It's even got funny scenes and beats and lines, and while I can count the number of laughs (at least five, at most six), they are genuine laughs. Farrelly knows how to get two guys working together on screen - he's known since Dumb & Dumber - so that part is fine.
But then there's that last third in particular when it hunkers down into hammering its message about race relations (if you've seen the trailer, that scene in the rain with "if I'm not black enough and Im not white enough" etc is a cringe-tastic as it seems) and the simple attitude that after two months Tony Lips is now way cooler and, more crucially at the end, all the rest of his friends and family there for Christmas Eve are magically okay now with the ::insert Italian slang word for racist epithet here:: coming to dinner. But this is all without any real work outside of a few goopy scenes where the good Doctor helps Tony write letters to Mrs. Lips (sorry I forget his real last name right now) so he must be awesome outside of the brilliant piano playing.
The movie does go a ways to make Ali's character flawed too in some basic ways - as a musician on the road he's become a loner, estranged from a brother and divorced - and in one way that I don't think is meant to be seen as a flaw, but comes up as a "huh" bit where Tony has to get Doc out of a bind when he is... Caught in a gay moment with another man at the YMCA(?!) Okie dokie! So that also don't be a big deal since hes just Tony's boss and no judgment and we'll just leave his sexuality as something that doesn't get any more screen-time because RACISM needs to get the top shelf over homophobia and that entire grenade which... What was that??
As far as the sort of if not feel good then *don't feel bad* kind of movie released by a big studio, it's not as tone deaf and potentially harmful as a Crash; it has more of the feel of a better(ish) thing that Stanley Kramer would have made (down to, if Poitier was around he would be ideal for this part): it doesn't shy from the issues, and on the contrary it tries to show what everybody (even the racists) know, which is segregation-by-law can't be sustainable.
But when it comes to depicting more essential details about character, about really digging into Lips past his love for his wife and not being *that* bad because, hey, he turns down offers by the local mobsters for work even when he's down, right(?) it doesn't hold as much water. Should I wholly believe Lips wont throw out again glasses that happened to touch mouths of black working class workers, despite himself being working class, because he got Lessons in Life (and visa-versa he gives the Doctor some "Street Life" lessons)? Not sure that I do.
Why the six star rating then? When it means to be simply well-acted and more character-driven entertainment, it works - not to mention the greatest product placement for KFC in cinema history - and I enjoyed seeing these two do the absolute best they could with what they had. It's a mild recommendation. But compared to what else you can see from this year - Blindspotting, Blackkklansman, Sorry to Bother You, to an extent The Hate U Give - it's weak tea.
Thank you. ::steps off::
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