Month: January, 2019

Green Book

gbOne half of the Farrelly directing duo, Peter Farrelly, has departed from the couple’s proclivity for comedy to deliver a heartfelt account of an unlikely friendship in the face of racial adversity. 

Taking its title from a guidebook designed for blacks travelling through America’s racist south, Green Book is set in the sixties and focusses on two New York men. Tony “the lip” Vallelonga is a sloven working-class family man played by Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic), and Dr. Don Shirley is an educated classical pianist with impeccable social manners and a clipped sense of decorum, played by Mahershala Ali (Moonlight). Both are socially, racially and ideologically worlds apart, however, they are forced together through a mutual work arrangement that pits Tony as the driver and hired muscle to guide Don though the more unsavoury (racially speaking) parts of the southern states.  

The pair’s racially charged trek through America’s hotbed of entrenched prejudice threatens to be a volatile powder keg ready to blow.  However, as the film progresses the diatribe that is ever-present on the periphery never eventuates. Rather, the film amicably traces its road-movie sensibilities through a more peaceful narrative path, keeping non-violence at its moral heart, narrowing the focus instead onto their burgeoning friendship. 

Some commentators have suggested that Green Book lacks the conviction of current contemporaries (such as If Beale Street Could Talk, Sorry to Bother you, BlacKkKlansman etc), instead opting for a sentimentality that is avoidant of the greater issues at stake. And sure, it’s not without its faults; the film stumbles over a few inconsistent character motivations and its well-telegraphed statements on racism err on the obvious, lending the film a slightly glib tone. But don’t let that put you off this otherwise well-intentioned crowd pleaser. Green Book makes the most of two superb actors at the peak of their powers and lives comfortably within its self-appointed mandate to herald the power of passive resistance and friendship. It’s charming, frequently funny and if you let your guard down it will melt your heart.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

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Eighth Grade

American writer/director Bo Burnham brings his indie sensibilities to a coming of age tale that feels both wonderfully charming and fiercely honest. His ode to teenage angst has somehow avoided Hollywood’s habit of cleansing and repackaging the prickly topics in our lives for easy consumption. Instead, Burnham’s astute observations of a thirteen-year-old’s anguish captures that limbo period; a time in life when you’re trapped for a few tortuous years between the joy of childhood and the reality of being an adult.

Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is a naturally shy but determined girl finishing up her eighth-grade year. Her introspective nature, which she projects onto social media, supplies the film some of its most soul-searching moments and highlights the disparity between middle-school (intermediate for us Kiwis) and high-school. Her well-intentioned, but perhaps overly earnest father (Josh Hamilton) burdens Kayla with a further minefield of generational difference to deal with.

Eighth Grade courageously and unapologetically marches through some uncomfortable topics and threatens to go into some fairly dark places. Watching with my daughter (who is a year shy of Kayla) we hit on a couple of awkward moments but thankfully Burnham not only recognises the necessary to explore such topics but also when to back off before the pot boils over. It’s light on plot but heavily laden with observational insights that weave the very present scape of social media seamlessly into Kayla’s milieu without undue attention or hysteria. Burnham shrewdly captures the painful absurdities of adolescence with a wonderful balance of sharp-edged wit and sensitive understanding that Is both powerful and yet modestly delightful.

However, where this film really shines is in newcomer Elsie Fisher performance, whose role as someone on the brink of change is delivered with a rare authenticity. From her strained and awkward self-help youtube videos to her courageous efforts at putting herself out there at a poolside party for the “cool kids”, Fisher naively exudes screen-presence and a good dose of comic timing. Wait for Hollywood to sink its teeth into this rare talent.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.