“Green Book” also won Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor. (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
The Academy Awards is known for causing controversy not just for who gets snubbed during the nomination process, but also over who and what ends up winning. In 1999, “Shakespeare in Love” beat “Saving Private Ryan” for Best Picture. Until his win in 2016, it was considered that Leonardo DiCaprio was constantly being snubbed by the Academy for a Best Actor award. The latest winner to join this club is “Green Book,” which took home the Academy Awards for Best Motion Picture.
This article will be a bit different from an ordinary review because, not only did “Green Book” not deserve to win due to the quality of the film, it also feels so contradictory to the image that the Academy Awards seems to want to have for itself that it should not have won for that reason.
Based on a true story, African American pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) hires bouncer Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) as his driver and body guard for a concert tour in the deep south of the United States in the 1960s.
One of the many controversies that has surrounded “Green Book” is the precursor of ‘based on a true story.’ Several members of Shirley’s family, including his only living brother Maurice and his niece, have condemned the movie for being dishonest. Granted, a movie that is based on a true story will always have some artistic liberties taken or not be 100 percent accurate, but what Shirley’s family describes is a blatant twisting of events in order for a film to be made about the story.
A twisting of events makes a historical drama dishonest, but it does not necessarily make it bad. What makes “Green Book” so problematic as a movie, however, is just how corny and obvious it is.
Take one of the early scenes of the movie right after Lip and Shirley start the tour. They stop at a diner for lunch and Shirley asks what Lip’s food tastes like. When Lip responds with, “Salty,” an out-of-nowhere scene takes place with Shirley, acting out of established character, mocking Lip for giving such a simple answer. It is corny and embarrassing to watch. It is also a little bit insulting. Did the filmmakers just think that the audience would not understand that the two characters start out at odds without throwing a needless argument in that comes literally out of nowhere?
What makes poorly written scenes like this sort of work, or at least be bearable, are the performances from Ali and Mortensen, as well as their solid chemistry. That being said, these actors succeeded and were able to give such strong performances in spite of the character directions and dialogue, not because of it.
The screenplay was written by Nick Vallelonga, who added to the controversies surrounding “Green Book,” as did director Peter Farrelly. The controversy surrounding Vallelonga was based on his retweeting and supporting of a lie fabricated by then presidential contender Donald Trump about Muslims cheering in New Jersey on 9/11. In the case of Farrelly, stories about how he would go around and flash people on film sets in the 1990s resurfaced. Considering Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting this year’s Oscars over past offensive tweets, and given the Academy’s removal of members such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski in light of the Me Too movement, choosing this as Best Picture seems like it is going against the clean image the Academy desperately wants to have.
Granted, there is a difference between hiring a host and rewarding an artist for their work as the winners are based on voting, but if Hart’s past comments mean his comedic work should not be recognized by giving it a platform, then the same can surely be applied to the nominated artists. There is nothing wrong with the Academy wanting a clean image that is devoid of controversy—most people and organizations want that exact thing—so would it not make sense for the award for Best Picture to not be given to a film that is surrounded in controversy and has artists attached who have committed acts that the Academy has come out against?
The Academy Awards wants to have an image of respectability and morality all the while rewarding the best films and artists of the year with awards and recognition. This year, the Oscars did neither by giving the win to “Green Book.”
Final Grade: C