In the week before the 91st Academy Awards are handed out, Tom Beasley takes a look at each Best Picture nominee and its chances of Oscars victory. Next, a film that has had an up and down campaign – Peter Farrelly’s Green Book…
The unthinkable has happened. Peter Farrelly – a man best known for making countless jokes about the contents of people’s underwear – has made a respectable(ish) film. So respectable, in fact, that it’s a bona fide contender to warm the Academy’s elderly hearts all the way to the Best Picture Oscar. Green Book, along with Bohemian Rhapsody has become one of the most divisive awards season contenders, but has won plenty of fans for its crowd-pleasing storytelling.
With that in mind, it becomes rather tough to analyse this one. Is it on the way to becoming the most problematic and unworthy Oscar winner since Crash? Or is it just a nice, little movie with joy in its heart?
Let’s take a closer look…
As many have quipped, Green Book is at its core a rather simple reversal of the Driving Miss Daisy premise. Based on a true story – don’t worry, we’ll get to that later – it follows the charming friendship between brash Italian-American ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and black pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). Tony is hired by Shirley to drive him on a concert tour of the Deep South in the 1960s, following the titular guide for African-Americans travelling during that era of segregation. Both men learn to examine their own prejudices, of course, and it’s all very heart-warming on the face of it.
But that’s where things get complicated. Don Shirley’s family has claimed that the ‘friendship’ depicted in the film is an over-inflated version of what was actually a very standard employer-employee bond. Meanwhile, Vallelonga’s son, Nick, is a co-writer and producer on the movie and has found himself in the crosshairs of scandal after a tweet resurfaced in which he claimed that American Muslims celebrated on 9/11. And before any of that even happened, Mortensen decided to drop the N-word in a Q&A.
The problems with the film, though, go far beyond what has gone on behind the scenes. It’s a perfectly decent, middle-of-the-road movie, to which you can add an extra star if you’re in the mood for something warm and uncomplicated. However, it spends one early scene establishing Vallelonga as a pretty major racist – he throws away two cups that black men have used to drink – only for him to become a vocal social justice warrior – to borrow a bizarre bit of internet nomenclature – without much in the way of a character change. Departures from reality can be glossed over, but it’s a problem when they don’t even ring true within the narrative.
It’s certainly possible to over-egg the issues with Green Book, which is largely inoffensive and destined to be forgotten if it doesn’t win on Sunday. However, given its status as a major contender, it needs to stand up to a level of scrutiny which, to put it as bluntly as Vallelonga undoubtedly would, makes it wilt like a flower trampled by an elephant.
Has it had a good season?
Things started well for Green Book, with a handful of big wins at the Golden Globes. It won the prize for Best Picture (Comedy or Musical), Best Screenplay and also scooped the Supporting Actor win for Mahershala Ali. Ali has absolutely dominated the Supporting Actor awards, including the key predictor of the SAG gong, and looks a dead cert to win his second Oscar at the weekend.
The film’s prospects have been more varied since. The swirling controversy doesn’t appear to have made much of a difference, but the season has been something of an up and down ride. Farrelly missed out on the DGA Award and the movie wasn’t even nominated for the SAG Best Ensemble prize, but Green Book emerged victorious at the PGA Awards. That’s a particularly big win, nabbing an award that is seen as a key Oscar predictor.
Can it win Best Picture?
This one stands a real chance. Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody have both fought their way through this season like Teflon, with no major controversy able to stick and damage their chances. The PGA Award is a big checkmark in the win column for this one, and its Golden Globe victory can’t hurt either. If it manages to win the Best Original Screenplay prize on Sunday, that could be an indicator that it’s in for a good night.
The lack of a SAG nomination, though, makes its win more unlikely – though that record seems set to fall again this year anyway – and Farrelly’s absence from the Best Director shortlist does not count in this one’s favour. If it wins the support of enough voters like the one quoted in the New York Times recently – he was tired of being told what to like and not like, apparently – it could make its way to the top. When the most middle of the road movie on the shortlist is a protest vote, something is upside down somewhere. It’s very 2019 though.
Tomorrow: The mighty may have fallen, but Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born is still a real contender for the top Oscars prize…
To read the previous articles in this series, click here.
The 91st Academy Awards will air live from the Dolby Theater on Sunday, 24th February.
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.