Green Book’s Oscar chances got a boost last week when it was named Best Picture by the National Board of Review.
But one reviewer is claiming the film — about a racist Caucasian man chauffeuring an acclaimed African-American musician through the segregated South — is more worthy of criticism than praise.
“I gave it zero stars,” Brooke Obie, managing editor of ShadowAndAct.com told UrbanHollywood411. “It was very disappointing and actually very upsetting.”
Obie reviewed the Peter Farrelly film, and her critique is listed on Rotten Tomatoes. While the comedy-drama has an 82 percent positive rating based on 158 critiques on the review aggregation website, Obie and about two dozen others have panned the film.
Green Book is inspired by the true story of Anthony “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, an Italian-American enforcer hired by a record company to provide chauffeur services — and muscle as needed — for pianist Dr. Don Shirley as he tours the Jim Crow South in the 1960s.
Lip is played by Viggo Mortensen, who the National Board of Review named best actor for his role in the film. Oscar winner Mahershala Ali co-stars as Shirley.
The title of the film refers to The Negro Motorist Green-Book, a guide published from 1936-66 that identified places north to south where African-American travelers could safely find food, lodging and other services.
Obie blasts the film as ahistorical, in part, saying it gives short shrift to the Green Book itself.
“In Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, Black people don’t even touch the Green Book, let alone talk about its vital importance to their lives,” Obie noted in her review, adding in an interview, “We don’t actually leave the movie knowing anything about Dr. Shirley and absolutely you don’t know anything useful about the Green Book as well.”
The film is written by Vallelonga’s son, actor and screenwriter, Nick Vallelonga.
Still, in Obie’s view, the film doesn’t explore the life of Dr. Shirley (1927-2013) — a musical prodigy who lived above Carnegie Hall in an apartment with a throne room no less — or examine the significance of the Negro Motorist guide. Instead, it repeats a trope where the main black character’s function is to be rescued by the white lead.
“This is a white savior movie,” Obie declared.
Lip alternately uses his fists, his gun or his wallet to pluck Shirley out of various scrapes, including one where the pianist is arrested after a homosexual encounter with a white man at a YMCA.
Perhaps more upsetting for some is the fact that Lip takes on the role of educating the detached Shirley on black culture, introducing him to the music of Little Richard and the wonders of fried chicken.
That depiction has outraged members of Dr. Shirley’s family, who have also objected to the film’s suggestion that Shirley was at odds with one of his siblings. His last surviving brother, Maurice Shirley, told NPR’s 1A Movie Club, “Dr. Shirley was not estranged from his family or the Black community.”
Meanwhile, Obie says Shirley was more woke than the film suggests.
“He was best friends with Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, he would play and accompany the Alvin Ailey dancers,” she observed, “so to paint him as this person who was far removed from blackness, from black culture, from black people is just false.”
The National Board of Review didn’t see it that way. The New York-based group stated, “We are proud to honor Green Book as our best film – it is a warm and a heartfelt look at a remarkable friendship, brought to the screen at a moment where its story of love, compassion, and shared humanity deeply resonates.”
The NBR honors may lift the commercial prospects for the racial road trip movie, which has sputtered at the box office.
This weekend Green Book earned $3.9 million for a tenth place finish. Since it debuted in theaters on Nov. 16, the film has made just over $14 million.
“Green Book will have to rely on its crowd-pleasing storyline and the wonderful performances by the lead actors to keep it top of mind in the coming weeks of the holiday movie season,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore, commented to UrbanHollywood411.
Dergarabedian noted that moviegoers may be overlooking Green Book because they are “overwhelmed by an unprecedented number of ‘must see’ blockbusters and awards season contenders currently playing at the multiplex.”
Universal, which released the film, remains upbeat about its box-office prospects, pointing to its coveted A+ Cinema Score and “Certified Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“We are extraordinarily proud to be distributing Dreamworks and Participant Media’s Peter Farrelly directed Green Book, which showcases incredible performances from both Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen,” Jim Orr, president of domestic theatrical distribution for Universal Pictures, said in a statement to UrbanHollywood411.
“Audiences are embracing this title, which just begins what will be a very long run at the domestic box office,” Orr added.
Still, Obie maintains the tepid box-office returns speak volumes about Green Book.
“I think it’s old, I think it’s tired,” she said. “This is not something that is feeding the vast majority of people that enjoy movies.”
Nonetheless, Green Book has won numerous audience awards at film festivals from Toronto to Austin, Philadelphia, Denver, Mill Valley and New Orleans. It has won jury awards at the Boston Film Festival, Heartland Film Festival, Twin Cities Film Fest and now gotten accolades from the National Board of Review.