|'Green Book': Because Look Out Old Macky's Back|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
12:43PM / Friday, January 18, 2019
There it was, the perfect opportunity I thought I wanted — staring me right in the face. A quadruple bypass procured the day after Thanksgiving 2018 can have that effect on a film critic.
What more reason could I conjure to call it a career, to be done with this movie reviewing stuff and finally retire to that long-fabled cabin on the lake in Vermont where I would idyllically pen those 36 essays and short stories with which I had been threatening the world of belles-lettres lo these many years?
But then the words of professor Halberstadter, my mentor back at Olde Ivy Film Criticism College, slowly interceded.
"Always remember the oath you took, Goldberger. Rain, sleet, snow, darkness of night, boring, lousy films or quadruple bypass surgery, the movies must be reviewed."
Not that I remember ever taking any such oath — thinking perhaps it might have been a fiction dear old Halberstadter machinated to strengthen the breed — semper fi and all that, you know. Oh, what conflict.
But it was yet another influencing factor altogether that superseded both my notions of a serene, post-movie reviewing life and the emphatic exhortations of the scholarly Halberstadter.
Nope, my appearance here in this comeback column is not truly altruistic, but actually rather egotistical. Whilst contemplating what breed of dog would be best to repose at my feet as I wrote those literary gems, it occurred that I perhaps had not yet earned that Green Mountain Shangri-La. Fact was, I had yet to accomplish my original goal. In short, I was not yet famous.
Where was that Pulitzer, a desk at The New York Times, the Ferrari in the company garage and the adoring public it would all entail? But more indicative of my unfinished mission, while people who want to investigate something are apt to "Google it," to the best of my knowledge, when a member of the Great Unwashed is deciding what film to spend their hard-earned shekels on, they rarely say they're going to "Goldberger it."
Having still not attained such referential eminence, I am left little choice. Hence, like Sydney Greenstreet's Kasper Gutman in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941) after it turns out that the blackbird is a fake, I dust myself off and resolve to continue my quest. Without further ado or equivocation, I offer my criticism of "Green Book."
Adding a bit of schmaltzy redemption to my pomposity, boy, is it good I didn't quit before having the opportunity to tell you about "Green Book," a seriocomic variation on the buddy-buddy genre that is as heartwarming as it is important. While the story about an African-American concert pianist and his dese-and-dems-spouting, Italian-American bouncer-turned-chauffeur takes place in 1962, there is no doubt that its intended, humanitarian appeal to our better angels serves to address the rampant racism the recent political obscenity in America has inflamed.
Anyone with a heart and a half-decent upbringing will be abashed by the stark divulgences about intolerance in America so artfully unearthed as Mahershala Ali's Don Shirley, the world famous pianist, is escorted on his tour through the Deep South by Viggo Mortensen's Tony Lip. While we know all about the separate but equal hogwash that was the rule down South before the Civil Rights Act, and full well know that it is still the secretly acknowledged, unofficial policy wherever tyrants and bigots hold sway, viewed through Tony's eyes the horror is redefined.
Seen again and again in various permutations as the two wind their way through Dixie, intolerance is shown for what it is: a deeply embedded, cultural mainstay, a cowardly lifestyle wrapped in aberrant ideas of posturing identity.
While it is early on noted that Tony held his own prejudices against black folks back in Brooklyn, it isn't until he sees its traditionalized virulence south of the Mason-Dixon line that the intense unfairness of it all sticks in his craw. Bias is one thing, being a no-good, cheating bastard is yet another matter.
It's an interestingly established distinction and Mortensen is stellar in his instructive realization of the epiphany. Likewise, Ali's stoical, intellectual musician is instrumental in schooling Tony on the inherent hypocrisies of bigotry, Southern style. I.e.—While the local patricians take pride in being able to host the internationally famous virtuoso at their posh country club, they won't let him eat in their dining room. The mutual adversary leads to a touching simpatico.
The reverse spin on "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989), part road movie, part salt and pepper anatomy of an evolving friendship, engagingly iterates what this world needs now, especially in light of the racism that's been all but condoned as official policy these last two years. While such muckrakes too often wind up only preaching to the choir, in my fantasy I imagine differently.
It's a young man or woman, the offspring of rabid white supremacists who, after secretly imbibing "Green Book," discovers the compassionate being within just clamoring to be free.
"Green Book," rated PG-13, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Peter Farrelly and stars Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali and Linda Cardellini. Running time: 130 minutes