“It takes courage to change peoples hearts.”
Viggo Mortensen is coming for you, Academy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
The New Orleans Film Festival is back for its 29th season, and the lineup this year is putting spotlight on the South. With over 6000 submissions including feature films, documentaries, shorts, music videos and interactive films, the festival offers submissions that “champions voices that are not always represented on-screen or behind the camera,” says artistic director Clint Bowie.
Opening night of the NOFF included the higher-profile submission Green Book, which was shot almost entirely in my hometown of New Orleans.
Based on a true story, a working-class Italian-American bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist (Mahershala Ali) on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.
Being called a modern-day Driving Miss Daisy, Green Book isn’t without flaws, but will easily be on all our lips come award season.
The title of the film comes from the “Negro Motorist Green Book,” a publication designed to tell African-Americans where they could safely eat and stay in the South during the days of segregation.
Known for comedy classics like Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, director Peter Farrelly dips into uncharted dramatic territory departing from his comedic roots. Despite its serious tone, the movie has more laughs than you would think woven in scene to scene. “I’d been telling people for about a year, ‘Yeah, I’m doing my first drama,’ and I didn’t realize how funny it was until seeing the three of you acting it out,” the director said. “On paper, that was not that funny; I don’t think anybody would read that script and say, ‘Boy, that’s a lot of laughs.’ But there’s a lot of laughs in this movie.”
In a festival circuit with statement pieces like Roma or If Beale Street Could Talk, a lot of feedback I’m reading regarding Green Book all have a slight hint of condescension: charming, crowd-pleasing, sweet.
And their sentiments aren’t wrong. I feel like a poor sport not loving Green Book as much as I’d hoped. It is sweet and charming, which is okay, but it follows a very clichéd, formulaic route that is not only predictable but very safe. It’s undoubtedly a meaningful look at class and race in America, but it doesn’t feel like something I haven’t seen before.
The champions of the film are, without hesitation, the two leading actors – Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. This is a performance-driven film, and while I love Ali, this is really Mortensen’s Academy Award to lose.
While this movie may follow a conventional path, it’s not one to be overlooked. It won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and Ali and Mortensen have won my heart…again. Check this movie out for its performances and expect to see their names pop up again for award season.