Sunday, February 10, 2019
A Green Book film commentary
The Green Book was and may still be the small travel help book that covered the hotels and restaurants where “colored” folk could stay or get a meal in the world of the Jim Crow South. In this film it becomes the Bible for a black man and a white man who are engaged in a countrywide concert tour. The twist is that this is a nifty Driving Miss Daisy turnaround with a racially challenged Italian bouncer from New York city chauffeuring a refined and highly educated black pianist. The actors Vigo Mortensen as Tony Lipp and Ali Mahershala as the pianist are expert and each winning in their own way. Peter Farrelly, the director has given the film a set of warm colors that often belie the racially charged situations. Of course all of the expected confrontations emerge during the trip from unctuous head waiters to country sheriffs and good old boys in bars. The ending with its mad dash to finish on Christmas Eve puts a snowy patina on the final moments of racial togetherness.
I learned the word “anodyne” a long time ago, but it's one you don’t get to use very often. Normally it refers to pain killers that can alleviate minor ills like aspirin or Tylenol. Metaphorically it refers to something created to be deliberately inoffensive and that fits Green Book to a tee. The film flirts with all that can be nasty about racism, but deliberately pulls its punches so that the viewer (white folk) can leave with feelings of pleasure and superiority. The conclusion is that even in the midst of violent sixties, harmony and respect between the races is possible.
As noted the two leading actors are superb. The humor is facile and gentle. The plot has few surprises and we can all have a Merry Christmas. As an old white guy who has seen both the veiled prejudice of the north and the overt hostility of the south, I must admit to falling under the spell of this film. I left feeling well entertained and convinced that the world can still have some good in it. The only problem is that an anodyne’s effect is only temporary and it really doesn’t cure a continuing real problem; it just covers it up for a while.