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Believe the hype: "Green Book" is a true crowd pleaser
24 October 2018 20:22:25
The Film Experience.
Found By: Lindi
Our thanks to Lindi for the find.
by Nathaniel R
The final day and a half of the very short but very fun Middleburg Film Festival went by with a whirl. We've since received word on the winners. Though Middleburg is a non-juried festival, the audience votes for a people's choice style prize. The documentary winner was Biggest Little Farm, a film about the director and his wife trying to develop a sustainable farm on 200 acres in California. Farm has been making the festival rounds for the past two months and is aiming for an April 2019 bow in movie theaters.
The narrative feature winner, echoing the crowd-response at TIFF a month earlier, went to Peter Farrelly's Green Book. Green Book was the closing film of the festival and I was able to catch its first screening on Sunday before racing to the airport to return home. The crowd went wild for it and it's worth noting that Middleburg has a more diverse audience than a lot of festivals (that's probably due to the vast social connections of the founder Sheila C Johnson, co-founder of BET who is one of the nation's richest African-American women and very involved in the arts). Sadly I wasn't able to attend the Q&A though I did manage to snap this photo before racing to the airport as the star Viggo Mortensen, the composer Kris Bowers, and director Peter Farrelly entered to a wild standing ovation to discuss the movie...
As mentioned yesterday on the podcast, watching Green Book with a crowd provides strong circumstantial evidence that the movie is going to be both a huge box office hit and a formidable Oscar contender. The movie tells the true 1960s story of a racist Italian boxer (Viggo Mortensen in an against-type comic star turn) with a huge appetite and terrible manners who reluctantly takes a job as a driver/bodyguard for an uptight intellectual Jamaican-American classical musician (Oscar winner Mahershala Ali of Moonlight fame). Together they road trip to the deep south for holiday concerts where the musician suffers more explicit racism than in his relatively privileged life as an elite musician in Manhattan. Along the way the driver becomes far more sympathetic to his employer's circumstances. Both performances are occassionally cartoonishly broad -- not entirely uncalled for given the film's tone -- and it's easy to fault the movie for its simplistic but inspirational implication; racism can be cured by friendship!
Few will mistake the movie for a deep investigation of our country's deeply entrenched race problem -- it's far more old school than that in that it safely condemns the blatant familiar racism of the segregated past with its high risk of violence in the South, and repeated plot points about separate bathrooms and accomodations ("Green Book" refers to an actual guide as to where African-Americans could stay during vacations -- sometimes the musician has to stay in total dive motels despite his wealth).
Yet somehow it all works in a kind of heightened movie-movie way. Mortensen and Ali's oil & water chemistry is a delight and the movie is often very funny, director Peter Farrelly (Dumb & Dumber, There's Something About Mary) being no stranger to pulling off big movie theater laughs. One particularly sweet thread involves Ali helping Viggo write letters to his wife (the always reliable Linda Cardinelli, adding great warmth and sensibility to every scene) while the two men are on the road. Despite that subplot the movie doesn't go the full dread 'magical negro' route, since it's much more balanced than that in what the characters do and become for each other (Mahershala Ali's "supporting" campaign is absurd since it's a two-hander with a little Cardilleni on the side)
With its enjoyable central friendship, clearly drawn lines of good and evil, charismatic actors, chill live-and-let-live vibe (who'da thunk 'live and let live' would feel so progressive in 2018. sigh), holiday scenes, and happy ending it's all very easy but quite satisfying. Given the sorry state of America these days with the White House condoned evils and renewed shamelessness of old school racism, it's possible that Green Book will work just like comfort food for exhausted goodhearted American audiences of many stripes when it opens for Thanksgiving. We'll see.
© The Film Experience. Images © Universal.