Men. In cars. Bonding. “Green Book” & “The Upside”

Green Book
The Upside

My favorite film at the Denver Film Festival this year was The Biggest Little Farm.  I’m excited for people to see this beautiful documentary when it comes to theaters in April. Oddly enough, it was two films with major stars that tied as my other favorites…and both films haven’t been getting much love from the critics.

Green Book and The Upside both feature actors at the top of their game playing characters that are extreme opposites. Based on true stories, both films have scenes that show the characters finding common ground while driving in cars.  And the similarities keep coming. While writing love letters to a woman, both sets of characters reveal their softer, sentimental sides. Black and white, rich vs poor, educated vs street smarts…even the conversations about music play out similarly. They may be set in different time periods and in different cities but where Bryan Cranston’s character loves opera–Kevin Hart is a fan of Aretha Franklin.  Mahershala Ali’s pianist, Dr Don Shirley teaches Viggo Mortenson’s working class stiff, Tony Lip to appreciate classical music and in turn, the refined Dr Shirley learns to appreciate 70’s soul music.

A remake of the brilliant French film, The Intouchables, The Upside has not received a wide release. On-hold since 2017 due to Miramax and #metoo villian Harvey Weinstein’s involvement—is it throwing the baby out with the bath water to stall this film? I really enjoyed it. There are some wicked funny moments between Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, there are touching scenes that reveal both character’s grief and though Nicole Kidman has a small role here…her presence of gentle guidance and respect give the film a sure footing. I loved the refection on how wealth changes ones approach to art (both good and bad) and felt that this version of the true tale of the ex-con and the quadriplegic has something new to say.

Green Book melted my heart. Critics have been calling it trite or sentimental or complaining that it’s predictable. I found it charming and scary and yes, some of the scenes we’ve seen before but stereotypes are stereotypes because of an endearing trope that has some basis in truth. A tale of two men, but also of two cultures and the racism and bigotry of the South that resonates with our own troubled present. Viggo Mortenson’s Tony Lip is a charming ruffian with a heart as big as Kansas but little opportunity or skill to express it and limited options for betterment. His role as bodyguard and driver to the refined (and repressed) Dr Don Shirley changes both of their lives. The juxtaposition between concert hall and juke joint,  between Dr Shirley’s ornately-decorated penthouse–beautiful but cold and empty, and Tony Lip’s loud, happy family home…these moments provide the blues and the joyful jazz to this film.

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