If films were to be judged on their political merits, Green Book would fail. But excellent actors and adept directing make this inversed Driving Miss Daisy an entertaining experience.
It is completely ridiculous that Green Book has been nominated for an Oscar for best film, but the breath-taking If Beale Street Could Talk by Moonlight director Barry Jenkins has not. But of course that is not Green Book’s fault.
This light-hearted crowd-pleaser was directed by Peter Farrelly, who is best known for his vulgar but usually very funny comedies that he makes with his brother Bobby, like There's Something About Mary. Here he has romanticized the true story of the friendship between piano virtuoso Don Shirley and the bouncer Tony Lip.
Inversed Driving Miss Daisy
In the early 1960s, the black musician Shirley made it a point of honour to tour around the Deep South, which was dominated by toxic racism and still governed by an Apartheid regime. The title refers to The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide listing the few places to eat and sleep that would welcome black customers. To ensure that the perilous enterprise does not end in disaster, Shirley hires a white Eyetie from the Bronx as a driver and fixer: Tony Lip.
The two are opposites: Shirley is elitist, rich, literary, lonely, and very thin. Tony Lip is a common, poor family man whose belly betrays his love of food. It is not a spoiler to reveal that he starts out as a racist but ends up a changed man. You know from the get-go that black and white will grow closer together and learn a lot from one another.
This inversed Driving Miss Daisy is not interested in dramatic surprises, but focuses on simple humour and the almost old-fashioned purpose of making you feel good. But the politically astute opinion makers who reproach Green Book for its simplistic message and irrelevance are not completely wrong. On the other hand, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, who have both been nominated for Oscars, make it very difficult not to empathize with their imperfect characters. Warming oneself on a friendship that is growing increasingly ardent is almost never wrong.