By Troy Ribeiro
Film: “Green Book”; Director: Peter Farrelly; Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Sebastian Maniscalco, Dimiter D. Marinov, P.J. Byrne and Montel Miller; Rating: ****
Set in the early 1960s, director Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” is a warm and insightful road-film exposing race dynamics and identity tensions in the US through its buddy-drama.
The movie gets its title from “The Negro Motorist Green Book”, which was written by Victor Hugo Green. The book was published annually from 1936 to 1966 as a guide for black travellers as to where they could stay, eat and receive services during the Jim Crow era, when discrimination against non-whites was widespread.
The film is based on the real life friendship between Doctor Don Shirley, a preen and pristine black, classical pianist and his driver cum bodyguard, a rough and ready Italian-American bouncer and enforcer by the name of Tony “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, when they go on a tour in the segregated American South in 1962.
Whist it might be easy to dismiss this as an inverted “Driving Miss Daisy”, with bits of “My Fair Lady” and “Cyrano de Bergerac” thrown in for good measure, this has a more politically aware and acceptable racial role reversal going for it.
Through the eyes of Tony, we encounter a gradually escalating set of injustices and prejudices Shirley had to endure because of his skin colour as they head deeper south. Via this enlightening experience, Tony goes through a redemptive arc that begins with him having similar prejudices due to his ignorance and finishes with him rejecting and turning around his erroneous ways just in time for Christmas.
Pegged as a mainstream feel-good film, Farrelly, known previously for very different films like “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary”, brings a light touch to the subversive drama. It is also packed with life lessons like, “The world is full of lonely people waiting to make the first move” and “Being genius is not enough, it takes courage to change people’s hearts”, that are subtly told.
But equally surprising and astonishing are the transformative central performances by Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. They dig into their characters with resounding success by shedding previous roles they are known for and inhibit almost polar opposite ones here. Both actors show a range unseen before in an impressive pair of portrayals that are believable and simply inspirational.
With brilliant production values, the era is well captured.
Overall, despite its by-the-numbers structure and some convenient conflict resolutions, “Green Book” delivers on a laid back crowd pleasing experience that is effective and affecting.