Green Book ★★½

In total honesty, this buddy-redemption crowd pleaser isn't half as awful as I thought it would be, though it's pretty socially regressive in surprisingly tone-deaf ways. It's miles better than Crash (there is seriously no comparison; this is exponentially more competent, and it remains a total mystery to me how Crash was taken seriously by so many legitimate critics), but like Crash it contains a few too many conversations about "how black" a specific black person is, here the pianist Don Shirley portrayed quite brilliantly by Mahershala Ali in his second Oscar-winning performance. The charge here is delivered by Shirley's driver, a Bronx wannabe gangster who goes by Tony Lip and is brought to us broadly and cartoonishly by Viggo Mortensen, who spends much of the film stuffing his face. Shirley's family apparently wasn't consulted in the script stages, which is pretty alarming, and a true story here was quite awkwardly shoehorned into a mild white savior narrative whose finale echoes Planes, Trains and Automobiles of all things, but it isn't so much that the film's racial politics are offensive as that they are presented with no grace or nuance whatsoever, though it's more than mildly disturbing that it mostly plays Jim Crow for superficial laughs. Moreover, it's a narrative bust that feels either phoned-in or bot-generated despite its clear adherence to various bullshit screenwriting regulations; numerous points are picked up and dropped without being resolved, like Shirley's briefly acknowledged sexuality, a paycheck-related concern that's milked for suspense then abruptly forgotten when it's no longer handy, and most notably, a deep-seated racism within Tony that is carefully established then consistently ignored. But on the assumption that you know you're watching a movie by a Farrelly brother with only the barest and most obvious of cultural signifiers and fish-out-of-water jokes, you get exactly what you pay for. No wonder Boomers like it so much, though; it's comfortingly simplistic and pushes all the right feel-good buttons, replete with highly respectable affluent (therefore safe) black artist performing for throngs of white folks and, when the worst kind of trouble arrives, a fucking Kennedy saving the day. Still, being mad at the movie is counterproductive; get mad at the Academy for continuing to reward such merely functional material.

It was pretty odd to see the DreamWorks logo again. That feels like such a relic from a very, very different era of moviegoing, right?