So, we’re well into Oscars season now, the cinemas are full of films with more banners than a Jubilee street party, all three months late into UK cinemas for some reason (seriously, sort it out Hollywood) so now I’m just catching up on the big nominations, the first of which is Green Book.
Now, we’re all familiar with the setting of the Jim Crow South, in all its disgraceful backwardness, but there’s always room for more interesting stories whatever this setting, anyway, this film has the talent, is it worth the hype?
Tony ‘Lip’ is out of work due to the closure of the Copacabana night club, he is offered the job of driving a Black concert pianist around on a tour of the Deep South, and keeping him out of trouble along the way.
The most interesting thing I found about the film pre-release and during the film, is its director Peter Farrelly, who some might recognise as one half of The Farrelly Brothers, makers of wacky, gross-out comedies such as: There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber, and the fact that someone with 25 years of experience makes the decision to take a turn for the dramatic, moreover without his brother.
Actually, the truth is, there are laughs to be had in here too, mostly from Tony themselves, but what really drew me into the story was the heart behind it, the difference between the two main characters made them all the more magnetic.
There’s a scene in the trailer, where the two main characters are eating fried chicken and get rid of the bones by throwing them out of the window, in what is representative of a character breakthrough for Doc Shirley (Mahershala Ali) which the trailer makes you think is a big build-up to that moment, but in the film it feels like it peaks too soon, as it happens maybe earlier than it should. Which is odd, as for the rest of the run time it’s very well-paced.
While I’m griping, I was also put off by the caricature of Italian-American people, in a film that makes a stand against the treatment of African-Americans later in the film, and their even-handed treatment of Black culture, the Italians were representative of any Italian-Americans you’ve ever seen in a film, which seems mis-placed in a film trying to make a point, for them to rely on stereotypes on that side of character.
All that being said however, there’s a lot to recommend about Green Book, Peter Farrelly makes the jump to dramatic film-making very well, and there’s some lovely shots to enjoy here, I especially like the cinematography inside the car and how many perspective that can give, and also framing Doc Shirley on stage incredibly well, balancing portraying the prejudice of the era, and the sympathy of the Doc Shirley character.
Speaking of Doc Shirley, Mahershala Ali was far and away the best thing about the film, he worked extremely well with Viggo Mortensen, their chemistry pops off the screen, but Ali just grasps the nuances of the character and makes them thrive, at the same time you’re admiring Doc Shirley’s talent, you’re feeling sympathy for his innate loneliness, and Ali was the perfect person to bring this across, as he is very quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s best actors
To be honest, the film took until the final third to fully draw me in, it seemed like Farrelly was hesitant to let go of the comedy roots entirely, and it was only when they focused on the dramatic story that it come alive, with material like this comedy can seem incongruous, and I can understand why this director was perhaps trying to leave his fingerprint of comedy on it, but when it came together, it was incredibly gripping, especially when focusing on the characters and their relationship.
In conclusion then, an incredibly interesting character study is in this film, it is sometimes lost behind mixed intentions and sometimes heightened by clean and focused direction, and entirely worth a watch for Mahershala Ali’s performance if nothing else.