Essentially Driving Miss Daisy with a few tweaks and some jazz music, Green Book would have been the perfect Oscar contender about 25 years ago.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The no-nonsense attitude of Italian-American bouncer Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) catches the attention of acclaimed and world-famous black pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), who seeks a driver for his eight-week concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South of America. Tony is hired and they embark, following the guidelines of the ‘Green Book’ in order to locate black-friendly travel stops and locations amidst the still-oppressive atmosphere in the South. Though they clash initially, Tony and Don begin to bond and have their views of the world challenged by both the racially heated and unexpectedly humane encounters along the way.
For all its class and finesse, it’s difficult not to admit that we’ve seen everything Green Book has to offer countless times before. Peter Farrelly’s (Dumb & Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) first-ever career shift from belligerent comedy to socially-conscious drama is Oscar bait in its most in-vogue tendency – race-baiting. Structured in the tried-and-true American road movie formula, you can bet there’s a mismatched buddy-pairing at its centre who aren’t just opposite races, they’re an odd couple in personality too. And you wouldn’t be wrong in guessing that while they’re no doubt going to clash amusingly along the way, they’re going to learn a lot from each other and a lot about tolerance and standing up to bigotry in a time of backwards segregation and racial tension. Cue the awards speeches. Hollywood pats itself on the back.
It can at least be said that this facelift of a well-worn success story bolsters a fine pair of performers with good chemistry as its said odd couple. Viggo Mortensen, fresh off a hot comeback with Captain Fantastic, plays essentially the opposite of that ultra-progressive character that earned him his last bout of nominations. He’s typically great, even if Tony is heavy on Italian stereotype. Mahershala Ali gives a quiet, calm and collected performance. Excellent as he is, it can’t help but feel Don is entirely the yang to Tony’s yin; a current of peace and wisdom as opposed to an actual character.
There’s really nothing inherently wrong with Green Book. It’s undoubtedly highly watchable and a nice enough tale of friendship, with great music. But that’s just the problem – it’s such a smooth, self-congratulatory and bump-free ride that it fails to feel genuine. Accusations of historical inaccuracies come as no surprise for something so heavily manufactured for the awards season. When just-fine films with faux-social issues are favoured by awards shows over actually creative ones that take risks, what worth are the awards to cinema, really?
Green Book is available in Australian cinemas from January 24
Image (c) Universal Pictures 2019