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Green Book – 3 out of 5 (Film 7 of 2019)

The problem with Green Book is it tells the story from the wrong point-of-view. Well, that and it feels like a big-budget, well-acted Hallmark movie. Everything is obvious. This is  storytelling for people who can’t really pay attention or maintain interest if anything gets a bit complex or challenging (Edit: which is meant as a criticism of the filmmakers not those who enjoyed the film). It was fine but could have been so so so much more.

Let me get back to my first point.

I had never heard of Dr Don Shirley and that is a damn shame. What we do learn of his life in this film is fascinating but his is the supporting role to the story of a life less fascinating. We learn that Don Shirley was a piano prodigy. That he was the first African-American to earn a doctorate in music but that he’d had to travel to a conservatorium in the Soviet Union to do so. We learned that he was a masterful classical pianist who had to re-invent himself because he was told no one would buy his classical records or attend his concerts because of racism. We learn he lived in a sort of grandiose apartment above Carnegie Hall and spoke at least three language. And yet the story is centred on the racist driver he hires – who is, himself, portrayed as hailing from an almost comically stereotypical Italian family living in the Bronx.

Ever since I learned of Green Books I’ve found them fascinating. These were travel guides written by and for African-Americans beginning in the 1930s. These guides helped their users navigate the segregated and racist towns they would encounter – finding places to stay, to eat, being warned of towns with especially bad reputations, etc. Fascinating, no? It’s a pity the title has now been wasted on a film about a white man befriending a black man and overcoming his prejudice along the way.

So, yeah – look, it was fine. The acting was solid. It looked good. But it wasn’t the film it could have been and should have been.

 

Synopsis from Dendy Cinemas

Inspired by a true friendship

Award winning actors Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali star in Green Book, a film inspired by a true friendship. In need of a driver for his 1962 concert tour, world-class black pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Ali) recruits Tony Lip (Mortensen), a tough-talking Italian-American from the Bronx.

As this mismatched pair set out on their journey, they must rely on the “Green Book” to guide them to safe establishments in America’s segregated south – but they’ll need more than a book to understand each other.

Winner of the Audience Award at Toronto International Film Festival, Mortenson and Ali make a winning double act in this humorous and heartwarming film.

Seen at Dendy Newtown on Tuesday 29 January

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