Green Book is a solid and largely riveting, race based, road-trip film directed by Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, 1998). It’s based off the story of a working class Italian-American bouncer at the New York Copacabana nightclub (Viggo Mortensen), who becomes a driver for an African American, classically trained, jazz pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). As the two travel from New York City through the 1960’s racially segregated America, we experience the stereotypes and heartbreak of their very different backgrounds. This is a road trip story in the truest sense.
Viggo Mortensen’s character, Tony Lip, is a Italian schlub, who loves to eat and some of the most cringeworthy and eye-rolling scenes in the film come from his food obsessions. Tony competes in a hot dog eating contest, folds his pizza to make a pizza sandwich, and offers Don Shirley his first taste of fried chicken, assuming he will like it just because he’s Black and it’s “his people’s food”. Mortensen plays an over the top Italian perfectly in spite of being Danish American.. Mahershala Ali plays an African American who doesn’t feel accepted by the Black community because of how “proper” and well educated he is, but when he’s off stage, he knows he will be treated just like any other African American, as he so perfectly says it in the film. These two men meet when Shirley arranges a job interview for a driver. The banter and confusion between the two, given their distinctively different and clashing personalities, definitely highlights some of my favorite moments from the film, including some legitimately funny bits.
Naturally, the film doesn’t shy away from racism, though there is a sense that it’s viewed more from the "White" perspective. There are noteworthy moments that highlight the tension of this era, like when Don Shirley isn’t allowed in a restaurant, or when he gets beat up at a bar and Tony has to come in and save him. There is, quite frankly, a lot of bluntness in those particular scenes, to put it lightly. Other than Linda Cardellini as Tony’s wife, Dolores, who is very good in the short scenes at their Bronx home with their extended family, there is a limited supporting cast. Tony’s associates and Shirley’s music executives and trio musicians don’t get much attention, as the focus of the film is on the “journey” between the two main characters.
This is a very different direction for Director Peter Farrelly, who last made Dumb and Dumber To (2014). The two films could not have been any more different and the comparison still makes me laugh. The movie’s overall strength comes from the performances and chemistry of the leads, who really do come off as unlikely traveling buddies that grow to respect each other as the story progresses. Green Book has picked up a lot of Oscar buzz, and if it wins anything tonight, it could be for best supporting actor, Mahershala Ali.
Now playing in Hanover at The Nugget Theater: Monday - Thursday-4:10 & 6:40 PM