Green Book Review

Still here?

Ok, the discussions around Green Book are exceptionally heated. Writing a positive review about the film is almost critical suicide. As the Awards season rolls on, with Green Book collecting award after award, the ever-growing-in-temperature spotlight simply will not leave Green Book alone. Problem after problem plagues the film – and, granted, some of the problems are with merit, while others not so much.

First of all, it’s the issue of a bunch of white men telling a story about racism in sixties America. That’s an easy one to tackle, and on paper, it makes sense why people would be getting angry about it. Who needs a story about racism in today’s day and age written by a bunch of white guys? Hopefully I’ve ticked that problem off in my review – namely, that white folks may actually listen to a story about racism when it’s told from a white persons perspective. Yes, that alone is a problematic, slightly racist act in itself, but here we are in society.

Secondly, there was the time that Viggo Mortensen said the N word on stage. Green Book is a film full of nuance, and here’s a situation where nuance needs to be applied. Yes, Viggo shouldn’t have used the word, but in the context of the discussion, he was mentioning the distances that white society has come when it comes to racism. Problematic, but from my perspective, not something that should stop anyone from seeking out the film.

Thirdly, there’s the revelation that Green Book co-writer Nick Vallelonga shared Donald Trump’s false statement on twitter that ‘thousands of people were cheering’ after the fall of the World Trade Center, adding that ‘Muslims in Jersey City cheering when towers went down. I saw it, as you did, possibly on local CBS news’. The ‘thousands of people cheering’ never happened. But, given that Vallelonga wrote and shared this only a few years ago (logically, around the time that the film would have entered production), and that Mahershala Ali is Muslim, well, it’s a huge issue. Is it enough to warrant not seeing the film? Possibly, possibly not. That’s not for me to decide.

Fourthly, thanks to the combative nature of the Awards season, the revelation that director Peter Farrelly (he of Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary fame) exposed himself to actors regularly on the sets of these films has come out. In the age of #MeToo, this is a fairly heinous act – and it’s one that Farrelly has apologised for. But, it’s an act that viewers should be aware of if they don’t want to support the work of someone who exposed himself regularly. Now, to be fair, there is a difference between what Farrelly did and what Harvey Weinstein did. It still doesn’t make the action ok at all though.

Fifth, Don Shirley’s family released a statement denouncing the relationship shown in the film. According to Maurice Shirley (Don’s brother) he mentions that Don and Tony Lip were not friends, but instead boss and employee. He further adds that Don didn’t need anyone to teach him how to eat fried chicken. Now, a biopic bending the truth of the person it’s portraying is not a new thing, but one has to ask, how much can you bend the truth before you break the image and legacy of the person you are representing on film? Especially when (for many) this may be the first time they will engage with this persons life story.

Now, with Awards season, it’s common place for journalists and other filmmakers to come out and throw dirt on other films to dash their chance at Oscar glory. Sometimes it’s small stuff, like Paul Schrader’s self-own where he said he’d like to work with Kevin Spacey. Other times it’s legitimate issues that follow a film – the fact that Bryan Singer is the director of awards favourite Bohemian Rhapsody is a major problem – and for Green Book, the issues that plague it are equally necessary and trivial.

For the majority of film viewers, these problems won’t ever come into play when they watch the film. But, given how fast ‘cancel culture’ works, people who throw some praise on a film can be collected as collateral damage that comes with enjoying a film. So, for example, Peter Farrelly and Nick Vallelonga are ‘cancelled’ because of their actions, and in turn, regardless of the fact that Mahershala Ali gives one of the finest performances of the year, the film itself is cancelled. If you throw praise on the film – like I have done – then social media deems me complicit in the actions of Farrelly and Vallelonga.

It takes a basic glance at the immediate bombardment of hate and antagonism thrown at actress Elsie Fisher who tweeted out in joy that she was ‘SO HAPPY RAMI MALEK AND BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY WON GOLDEN GLOBES’. Yes, Bryan Singer has a horrible past, but there was simply no need to jump on Fisher in the way that social media did.

This is not to say that filmmakers are clear from criticism – far from it, as they are in a privileged position that comes with an amplified level of scrutiny that most jobs would not have –, it’s simply that this criticism needs to carry a level of nuance to it. It’s ok to hate Green Book or Bohemian Rhapsody because of the actions of the filmmakers, but if someone enjoys those films, then it’s not ok to jump down their throats and tell them they are wrong. Take a lesson from Green Book itself – educate and explain why there is an issue with the filmmaker, and let the viewer decide for themselves.

I want to make it clear – I’m not jumping up to defend Green Book. I enjoyed it! I was surprised I enjoyed it because I went into the film with all of these things worked up against it, fully expecting to be angry and upset about it. But, it wasn’t that kind of film to be upset and angry about. It has a core positive message that works, and for me, that was enough.

I like to think I’m socially aware and active, and that I’m ‘woke’ enough to participate in discussions about things that plague society. I’m well aware that there are some discussions that people shouldn’t have on behalf of groups that they are not part of, but (that word again), there needs to be a level of nuance applied to discussions online, and in turn, a bit of leeway given to those who aren’t up to speed with literally everything going on in the world. It’s not always possible to be immediately aware when someone has turned milkshake duck, so when someone supports something from someone that you know has issues, just take a breath and have a level discussion about it.

More Stories
Downrange Review