Movie Review

Green Book comments on racism, importance of friendship

DON SHIRLEY AND TONY LIP, PLAYED by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, in Green Book.

When dealing with racism, some films, like The Blind Side or Crash (2004) aim to stir up tensions and divide critics. Thankfully, Green Book doesn’t fall into this category. It’s not trying to desperately beg for an Oscar by serving the audience an edgy, dark take on racism. It aims to be a simple, solid movie that everyone can enjoy.

Make no mistake, there is racial commentary in Green Book. But it’s not overbearing, and it’s delivered in short, albeit powerful, bursts. The central theme of this movie isn’t racism, nor is it about the horrors of the deep south in the ’60s. No, this film’s main theme is friendship.

That might not excite everyone but it certainly excited me and the audience at the pre-screening held at Rensselaer. The film’s main strength comes from the colorful and complex personalities of its protagonists, and the humor derived from their resulting banter.

Tony is a brash, boorish, “uncultured” Italian American who, at the start of the film, didn’t exactly love the so-called “colored” Americans—to put it nicely. It’s an attitude best described as “covert distaste:” one that people unfortunately still hold in modern America. However, over the course of the film, he bonds with his new boss, Don Shirley, and in doing so, leaves his prejudices behind.

Don Shirley is Tony’s opposite. He’s a cultured, refined, smart, talented pianist. If it weren’t for his race, he’d be a rich snob—just like most of his audience. But his race—and later, sexuality—deny him the acceptance he craves. He also feels as if he’s too different from “other” African Americans to fit in with them.

Over the course of the film, we see how bonds can transcend the boundaries of race, culture, and even personality. People who look and act completely different from one another can still form meaningful ties and, in doing so, realize that they have more in common than they thought, chief among which are their core values. The message is subtle, but cogent.

The movie is also hilarious. The humor is well spread out, witty, and has wide appeal. In many other movies, you might notice a significant subset of the jokes spark just two or three laughs, but that’s not the case here; nearly everyone in the audience laughed for every joke.

This movie also did something unexpected with the way it handled one of its more touchy topics: policing. Unless you’ve lived in the depths of the Amazonian Rainforest, disconnected from all of the outside world, you’ll know that law enforcement often comes up in discussions about race relations in the United States. That said, I do admire how they handled the topic—with delicacy and nuance.

Green Book is a refreshing, fun, heartwarming movie with a simple but powerful message. If you want to see a fun road-trip film, you should definitely check this one out.

 

Rating: 4.5/5