Though I am not an expert in such matters, it was no surprise to me that it was nominated for an Oscar and ultimately won the prize for best movie. What has surprised me is the backlash against that success. Movie critics and other pundits of various ilk have panned the movie suggesting inter alia it is “racially tone deaf” and “glosses over reality” and “trivializes serious matters”. Criticisms have revolved around the depiction of race relations that soft pedal reality to create a feel-good outcome in a vexed world.
Now I think critics of Green Book make the same mistake made by those who complain about Budweiser, Coors Banquet and Miller Genuine Draft. These beers and the movie are made for a different purpose and for a different audience from the critics’ expectation or wish. Thus the beers are delightfully light and refreshing and easy to consume; they are not intended to be a monument to gustation. The movie is similarly light, refreshing and easy to consume; it is supposed to be entertaining, not a documentary.
As my Mam would say “It is what it is. Get over it.”
I did not go to see Green Book by accident. I was not passing a theater where the movie was showing and stumbled in. I did not see it because I had nothing else to do and it was raining. I did not see it by random selection from Fandango or from advertising clips or by weighing published reviews.
I saw the movie for one very good reason: a thoughtful and knowledgeable friend, whose opinion I value and who is much more of a movie buff than I am, recommended the movie. Her recommendation was a not that this movie was good or even excellent or even truly outstanding.
She told me that Green Book was the best movie she has ever seen.
That is an astonishing assertion for me, because I have no internal scale of judgment that could possibly make such a measure. For me movies fall into one of three categories. They are either good, OK-ish or stinkers. If I had to search my mind for the best movie I ever saw I would choose Snow White and the Seven Dwarves that I saw when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. I can still recall some scenes in my mind’s eye.
But with my friend’s recommendation for Green Book there was no way I was going to miss it. I saw it within a day or two.
While the movie might fall far short of a critical examination of race relations in the Deep South in the 1960s we did meet an urbane and elegant black man of extraordinary talent, intellect, education and accomplishment, an aesthete. That was new.
We saw examples of disrespect and social humiliation of and even violence towards that person by segregationists who employed him to entertain them. That was not new.
We saw a simple white guy, a bouncer in a club who become his chauffeur, learn to understand what was going on and appreciate him through the simple device of writing sweet letters home to his wife.
It was a lovely story.
I don’t care if the critics and pundits found so many shortcomings in the movie. It was charming and interesting and entertaining. That’s why I go to the movies. If I want messages I watch Frontline or Sixty Minutes. As they say, “If you want to send a message use Western Union.”
The critics and pundits seemed particularly upset that a movie called Roma was not the Oscar winner for best movie. Only people who suppose Kim Jong-un will give up his nuclear toys would think Roma could win. It’s a Netflix movie before a theater-oriented jury; it is about a maid and shot in black and white; it’s in a foreign language with sub-titles and has its own category in which to compete; it has no star power. Forgeddaboudit!
Now I drink a lot more lightweight beer made by the major brewers than I do heavyweight craft brews. They are just a lot easier to manage, more often suit my mood, and complement my dinner more effectively than most craft products. In the same sense, I’m OK with movies that have well told stories about interesting characters and that entertain me.
I’ll take a Budweiser and Green Book anytime.
Michael J. Lewis, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of brewing science at the University of California, Davis, and the academic director and lead instructor of UC Davis Extension’s Professional Brewing Programs. Lewis has been honored with the Master Brewers Association of the Americas’ Award of Merit and the Brewers Association’s Recognition Award. He is an elected fellow of the Institute of Brewing & Distilling. He is also a recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Teaching Award.