Reel Dad: Green Book explores moments of human connection

As we walk this world, we savor the moments we connect with others.

And, as the holidays begin, we look for ways to express our thanks to those who make our lives richer, and our days easier, and fill our worlds with hope.

The new film Green Book is the perfect movie for this Thanksgiving.

At a time when so many in our world focus on what can divide, this loving, funny, at times complex look at an unlikely connection between people reminds us that we only build relationships if we dare to let others into our lives. And to do that, with authenticity, we must willingly reveal what we believe, what can frighten us, and what gives us hope.

At first, the premise for Green Book may sound similar to Driving Miss Daisy, that classic play and film that won the Oscar as Best Picture. But the two movies could not be more different. Daisy remains a marvelous study about how opposites find common ground while Green Book celebrates how we can overcome what can divide to make us hopeful that our broken world can, somehow, someday, begin to heal.

Interestingly, Green Book begins with a detailed look at everyday life for Tony Lip, a part-time bouncer, part-time bad guy, and full-time husband and father played with relish by Viggo Mortensen. By showing the many parts of Tony’s life, the film builds a frame for how that life will change when he first encounters Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a poised, polished and utterly precise professional pianist who needs someone to drive him on a concert tour through the South.

Now, because the film is set in 1962, a black man and a white man traveling together carries its challenges. They can’t always eat in the same places, or sleep in the same places, details covered in the “green book” of travel information for blacks on the road. But the differences these men navigate reach far beyond the color of their skin. Nothing in their backgrounds prepare them to connect with each other, from how they approach the day, choose or eat their food, approach family relationships, or deal with conflict or challenge. And the movie works because director Peter Farrelly uses race as a way to explore the real issues that can divide people, not to oversimplify those issues into matters of black and white.

The film also works because it dares to be funny. Laugh out loud funny. Now that’s not necessarily a surprise; Farrelly is primarily known for making comedies. But Green Book could have taken a much more serious look at the issues it explores. But, like Get Out a year ago, it dares to use the conventions of comedy to make us think about the serious conditions that fuel the humor. And, unlike Driving Miss Daisy, which managed to suggest a chuckle or two, and certainly make us smile, Green Book helps us use our laughter to remind ourselves how foolish people can be when they limit their connections to people who make them comfortable or, worse, reinforce their views of themselves.

We need this movie. We need to see this movie. The lessons we learn from Green Book can, if we live them, help us look inside the people we encounter, not beyond the people we see.

Film Nutritional Value: Green Book

  • Content: High. With content as relevant as today’s living, Green Book explores the miracles that can emerge when people authentically connect.
  • Entertainment: High. Despite the details in this history lesson, the creative filmmaking of Peter Farrelly makes this an entertaining journey to a land far away, but oh, so close.
  • Message: High. With its layered examination of how two very different men face the world, the film teaches us how much it matters to look beyond surface differences.
  • Relevance: High. At a time when balance in so much in our world is fragile, the film’s insights are timely and essential.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your children, talk about how its lessons impact what we see in our world today.

Green Book is rated PG-13 for “thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material.” The film runs 2 hours and 10 minutes, and is opening in local theaters for Thanksgiving. For more about the movies, check out The Reel Dad online at arts.hersamacorn.com.

Driving Miss Daisy celebrates real connections

Some people simply don’t want anything new to happen in their lives.

They have experienced enough change and challenge and are now simply ready to relax in their lives with the known people who surround them. They are content — at whatever age they may be — to enjoy the people and routines they know. And while they may be courteous to new people they meet, they rarely reach out, simply because their lives are full.

Miss Daisy, a retired teacher and widow, cherishes her routine. She plays mah jongg with her friends, worships at her temple, and drives her large car when she wants to go to the Piggly Wiggly to take advantage of the weekly specials.

But, like most people experience, Miss Daisy reaches a point in her life when it is no longer safe for her to drive. At first, in her predictable manner, she declares she will use public transportation or taxis. But, in late 1940s Atlanta, such means are difficult to access. So her successful son hires a man to be Miss Daisy’s driver. At first she rejects the intrusion because she does not want someone else in her life, in her home or in her car. But she gradually gives in, gives the driver the keys, and they begin a meaningful friendship that lasts for more than 20 years based on what they share and not on what separates them.

Driving Miss Daisy is all about how stubborn we can be and what joy we experience when we simply loosen up. Some who see this film view it as a study of race relations; frankly, the fact that Hoke, the driver, is black and Miss Daisy is white, is only relevant to those outside their relationship; this is not a study of overcoming prejudice based on color. Instead it’s a wonderful examination of how we limit our lives when we let our routines define our lives. And only when we take a leap, and give someone else a chance, can we truly see what life can offer, even when we think we have experienced it all.

Director Bruce Beresford, by making the situations feel so real and the emotions so authentic, shows us how people we may initially resist can, if we give them a chance, prove to provide the most meaningful friendships we may experience, especially if we reach out to someone who may think differently, may be of a different color, and certainly looks at the world with different priorities and views. By looking at the world through each other’s eyes — and not just their own — they each gain the insight that only friends can bring each other. And they discover, to their surprise, that the world they share is much richer than the worlds they previously inhabited without each other.

These two become, as the film progresses, the very people each other relies upon. From the surprise of their friendship, to the meaningful support they experience over the years, they learn that real friends do not necessarily have to fit initial expectations. If we give people time, and trust, we can grow together.

Driving Miss Daisy shows us what we can learn when we listen to voices other than our own, and inspires us to listen as we hear, and does so in a most endearing and entertaining manner.

Driving Miss Daisy, from 1989, is rated PG, and is available to stream online.