I am a little late to the game on this subject, but at least I’ve had time to think it over instead of hurrying my thoughts, instead of rushing to conclusions.
On February 24th, 2019, Green Book won the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ coveted Best Picture award over the other nominees: BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Roma, A Star is Born, and Vice. Is Green Book worthy of its win? Was it an odd win?
Howard Hawks once said a good movie has three good scenes and no bad scenes. Apparently, a Best Picture winner can have two – maybe three – decent-to-good scenes and all the rest can be bad scenes.
I’ve heard several people compare Green Book to Norman Jewison and Stanley Kramer at their worst. I say comparing Green Book to the work of Jewison and Kramer is an unnecessary insult to Jewison and Kramer. That being said, I wouldn’t be so critical of the movie if it hadn’t been nominated for so many awards, including one of the ones it won: Best Picture. Or, to be more accurate, I should say, I am being critical of Green Book, though I wouldn’t have watched it or even paid any attention to it if it hadn’t been for its Best Picture win.
Was it a worthy win? I say no. There were five better choices on the ballot.
However, was it an odd win? I say no to that as well.
I used to defend the Academy Awards, citing, as reason for my faith in the awards, the fact that so many industry individuals take part in the voting. These days, I have no desire to defend the Oscars. The Academy Awards were created back in the day as an attempt to legitimize a fledgling organization, and, as Ann Hornaday referenced in a recent interview with The Federalist Radio Hour, the Oscars were never about awarding art; they have always been about awarding entertainment. From the beginning, the Academy Award for Best Picture has more often than not gone to a safe movie of easy entertainment, even if some cite the current ranking voting system for Best Picture as a seeming increase in these sorts of choices of late.
Green Book’s Best Picture win is just another iteration of a bland movie like Spotlight winning in a year movies like The Revenant, Room, and The Martian were nominated. Green Book is nothing more than a painfully mediocre film.
When Green Book won Best Picture, several people with whom I am somewhat similar politically began to defend its win from the “woke police,” the ones, at least, who hated Green Book’s win because it doesn’t fit their exact worldview closely enough. Now, I would like nothing more than to go up against people who have their panties all in a bundle because something isn’t just exactly what they think it should be, but, unfortunately, I cannot in this instance. Not only is Green Book painfully mediocre, but it’s also contrived and condescending, treating its audience like simpletons, with a clumsy, ham-fisted narrative and an extremely oversimplified look at its two central characters. It’s also strangely built like a comedy, which does not fit tonally with the story we’re actually being told here, though it does help lighten things up and make the whole affair a bit more enjoyable, for better or for worse. I think for worse.
Green Book is like that stereotypical dude-bro white guy who, meaning well but lacking understanding, says, “I’m not racist because I have black friends.” Now, I don’t want to be too hard on that particular phrase, because, up to my earliest days in college, I might have said the same sort of thing. Let me instead put it this way: Green Book is a movie by white boomers, mostly, for white boomers, and I don’t see any value in it outside of that. It is essentially a race-reversed Driving Miss Daisy, a movie Morgan Freeman considered fluff, I’ve heard, when he starred in it. Green Book has nothing more to say than Driving Miss Daisy did, which was very little.
By the way, Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture in a year for film that also saw the releases of Glory and Do the Right Thing, both movies that explored similar issues more insightfully.
Now some people have complained about Green Book’s creators only contacting the Vallelonga family for research when they were forming the story, but I wonder if they realize this was a script from that family, from the protagonist’s son, Nick Vallelonga. That’s where the interest came from, a son for his father, and that’s why I’m OK with the POV, even if I do think the writing is quite poor. People calling this a white savior movie are being ridiculous, though it’s still a movie for white liberals to use to congratulate themselves on not being “like those people” before going about their day without ever truly considering the complexities of the world they inhabit.
Look, there’s a better version of this movie already in existence. It’s called The Bucket List, directed by Rob Reiner and starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. A lot of the things that are unsubtle in Green Book, like racial tensions between two male characters who eventually become friends, are more nuanced in The Bucket List, though it is a pretty simple movie too, in its case for its good. Watch that instead. Not that The Bucket List was close to best-of-the-year material either, but it’s certainly much better than Green Book.
If you are looking for a movie from 2018 about race relations and similar current societal tensions in America, though I know some people may recommend Black Panther or BlacKkKlansman to you, by far the best movie of 2018 to explore such themes, and one of the best explorations I’ve seen of these themes, is the independent film Blindspotting. Go watch that instead.