“Green Book,” a movie based on a true story, won both the 2018 Oscar and Golden Globe for best picture, two best screenplay awards, and six best actor awards for Mahershala Ali, who plays Dr. Don Shirley, a black world class pianist who booked a lengthy concert tour in the Deep South, which was still segregated in the 1960s. Shirley hired Tony Lip (Viggo Mortenson), an Italian pizza parlor bouncer from the Bronx, to protect and chauffer him on the trip, which relied on the Green Book, an actual listing of places where blacks could eat and lodge safely in the South sixty years ago.
The movie starts in Manhattan with the aristocratic Dr. Shirley‒literally sitting on a throne‒talking down to the ex bouncer. After the inevitable decision to travel together, we watch the main characters overcome their differences during a series of episodes on the trip, which feature everything from Dr. Shirley eating his first fried chicken to the polite but absurd explanations from the country club folk of why the famous musician they’ve come to see can’t use the whites only bathroom.
Valeta and I thought the movie was excellent and scored it 90 well before it won the Oscar for Best Picture. It received a score of 79 from 521 users and 69 from 52 critics. So, “Green Book” won a lot of awards, and almost everybody liked it, including our Top 5 reviewers: Mick LaSalle of the S.F. Chronicle (100), Mike Scott of the New Orleans Times (80), James Berardinelli of Reel Views (75), and Roger Moore of Movie Nation (75).
Even some of our Bottom 10 reviewers liked it: Ann Horniday (-24) of the Washington Post gave it a score of 100; Richard Roeper (-20) of the Chicago Sun Times, an 88; Kenneth Turan (-21) of the Los Angeles Times, an 80; and Peter Travers (-31) of Rolling Stone, an 80.
That data begs the question, what reviewers caused the critics average score to drop to 69? The answer to that question helped me identify a new sub class of bad reviewers, the “woke” bad reviewers, those who will disparage even an excellent, heart warming movie on race because it does not flagellate the audience enough for being the racists the woke bad critics know them to be.
Joe Morgenstern (-60) of the Wall Street Journal gave the movie a score of 40 and set us straight: “Green Book warms the heart, then numbs the mind. It’s a broad-brush lesson in racism, a sermon on the power of empathy, a user’s guide to tolerance packaged as a mismatched-buddies comedy.”
Another woke bad critic, Michael Phillips (-16) of the Chicago Tribune saw not a movie, but a conspiracy, “A crowd-pleasing hit [People’s Choice Award] at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, the movie may not be accurate history [welcome to the movies!]. It may not even be particularly interested in one of its two main characters, for various reasons.”
And finally, A.O. Scott (-30) of the New York Times (-66), tried to have it both ways, first by demonstrating his woke credentials: “There’s not much here you haven’t seen before, and very little that can’t be described as crude, obvious and borderline offensive, even as it tries to be uplifting and affirmative,” immediately contradicted by, “And yet! There is also something about this movie that prevented me from collapsing into a permanent cringe as I watched it. Or rather, two things: the lead performances,” to demonstrate his strong bond with the common man. [Psychologists now have a name for his condition, the “Good Guy/Asshole” syndrome, or GGA.]
Seeing “Green Book” can thus make all of us better off. We enjoyed an excellent movie with a very interesting true story, great acting and first rate dialogue. And doctors are now able to treat the critics’ GGA with moderate dose Thorazine.