This movie has received a lukewarm reception from the critics, but I dissent from their views. Critics have suggested this movie is superficial. I suggest the reviews are superficial.
Sometimes a movie does not need great subtlety to be worthwhile. This movie tells a story that must be told, over and over again. It tells the story of horrendous racism in America not that long ago. We all need to hear this story. This is even true of us non-Americans who are by no means free of racism ourselves. We must learn to speak out against racism. That is sometimes hard. As Angela Davis said, “In a racist society it is not enough not to be a racist, one must be anti-racist.” That is one of the reasons I have started to blog. I want to denounce some injustices. Racism is one of them.
I liked the fact that the serious topic of racism in the movie was handled with humour. That is not always easy to do. The movie made us laugh and think. Isn’t that pretty good?
The movie is sort of twist on “Driving Mis Daisy, ” with the racial roles reversed. The driver is Tony Vallelonga, a.k.a. Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen). He is a white iconoclastic Italian New Yorker. The elegant passenger is a brilliant and rich black musician, Donald Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali). Donald hires Tony to drive him through the Deep South before the civil rights successes in the 60s. They need the “Green Book” to find safe places for Donald to eat and stay. His wealth and fame is not enough. They are definitely an odd couple. Tony is brash, loud, unsophisticated and talkative. Dr. Donald Shirley is quiet, thoughtful, and refined.
The story in the film is how both of them become woke to the intricacies of the other. Both have to learn to get around the stereo-types. Tony begins as a racist, who discards in the trash glasses used by 2 black workers in his home, but learns in time to appreciate and befriend Donald. He overcomes his own racism. He is better than that. Donald learns to see the good heart and street smarts underneath the rough exterior of Tony. Both have to get through the surface of the other to the richness underneath. Both have to look beyond skin color. That should be easy, but by now we know it is not. It is difficult to overcome deeply ingrained prejudice.
Tony is a self-confessed bullshitter. But he denies lying. He tells stories to others to get them to do what he wants. Reminds me a lot of a certain President.
While driving Tony is surprised that Donald seems unconnected to modern black popular music. He doesn’t seem to know the music of Chubby Checker, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin or Sam Cooke. This causes Tony to exclaim: “These are your people!” Tony exclaims, ultimately adding, “I’m blacker than you are!”
Donald on the other hand realizes that he is rich, talented, famous, and alone. He cries out that he is “not black enough, not white enough, not man enough,” and adds, with bewildered anguish, “What am I?” He has no place. He does not belong. He gains an epiphany of sorts in a black jazz/blues club as he performs classical music for a surprised crowd and then joins a black band playing rousing blues and jazz. I loved their jamming.
I won’t say that the movie is brilliant. But I loved it. Sometimes brilliance is not necessary.