Am I the only person shocked that the Adam McKay and the Farelly brothers, directors of Step Brothers and Movie 43, respectively, have been nominated for Oscars this year?
This surprise doesn’t necessarily come from a snobby place. After all, Tom McCarthy won Best Picture for the brilliant Spotlight despite the fact that his previous movie was the Adam Sandler Netflix abomination, The Cobbler. Adam McKay’s nomination for Vice makes more sense, since he has previous form with the flashily dull The Big Short, and Vice, while flawed, is a much more ambitious film than what Peter Farrelly has to offer us. Green Book has been one of the more controversial picks for Oscar glory this year, though not due to Farrelly’s gross-out past – but because of its subject matter.
It’s a little overdue to say that Green Book is a white savior narrative, but hell, the Academy absolutely loves that kind of thing so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who pays attention to the Oscars over the years.
Think of The Help, or Hidden Figures, or if you want to go in a less realistic direction, Avatar – we know that this kind of narrative is enough to get nominations, so a nod alone is less surprising. What makes things a little more confusing is Green Book sharing the company with BlackKklansman, Black Panther, and the outrageous snub of If Beale Street Could Talk, all of which are made by black filmmakers and portray the experience of African Americans, their heritage, culture, and struggle in a much more compelling fashion, and with a lot more relevance to the racial and cultural landscape of today, than Green Book’s reversal of Driving Miss Daisy.
While Green Book has a lot going for it – Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are predictably excellent, and Ali deserves an Oscar for making this material mostly work alone – Farrelly’s direction is reasonably crisp, and the soundtrack is fantastic – it’s hard to shake the feeling that this Hollywood movie is trying to sell us an easy answer to an infinitely complicated problem that can only exist in the movies.
While I realize that calling a movie out for bending the truth and simplifying a true-life narrative is a bit obvious, since all biographical movies do this to some extent or another, Green Book leaves a decidedly sour taste – a sense of being manipulated as an audience member to an answer that perhaps only the creators of Green Book really believe in.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Vanity Fair)