Both Heartbreaking and Heartwarming, Green Book Delivers Knockout Performances
One of the most tried-and-true movie formulas is the road movie: where the main characters set out on a trip that will change their perspective or life forever. It may seem strange to say, but the Farrelly Brothers, who are best known for comedies like Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, and There’s Something About Mary, are masters of this genre. Almost 25 years after Dumb and Dumber, Peter Farrelly has gone from silly (but beloved) comedies to Oscar-nominated films with his latest work, Green Book. Starring Academy Award nominee Viggo Mortensen and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali, the film centers on an unexpected friendship that transcended prejudice and injustice in the 1960s.
Mortensen, best known for his performances in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) and Eastern Promises (2007), gained 45 pounds to play bouncer Tony Vallelonga (‘Tony Lip’). Tony is from a predominantly Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx and works the door at the Copacabana. After learning that the nightclub would be closed until further notice for repairs, Tony starts spreading the word that he’s in the market for a new gig as he has to provide for his wife (Dolores, played by Linda Cardellini) and two sons. Soon, Tony receives a call about a local doctor who is in need of a driver. Initially unenthusiastic about the opportunity, Tony assumes it will be good money and shows up for the interview. Much to Tony’s surprise, he does not meet the type of doctor he was expecting.
Dr. Don Shirley, played by Ali (Moonlight, 2017), is a world-class pianist who is about to embark on a concert tour heading into the Deep South, which raises problems as he is African American. Dr. Shirley is in need of a protective and dependable chauffeur who can help him navigate the Jim Crow-era South. At first, Tony hears the offer and turns it down knowing he would be on the road for about three months, right up until the holidays. To make matters worse, Tony, a working class Italian, carries a prejudice towards African Americans.
After much convincing, Tony shows up to meet Dr. Shirley and packs the car for their long road trip. Since few establishments were safe for African Americans in the South, the duo relied on “The Negro Motorist Green Book” to find suitable restaurants, hotels and gas stations, even if it means Tony and Dr. Shirley would have to stay at different hotels throughout the trip.
Although they were both rather cold to each other at first, the road trip forces both Tony and Dr. Shirley out of their comfort zones. After facing down the challenges of racism and class – Tony opens his mind and Dr. Shirley lets down his guard.
Of the Oscar contenders this year, Green Book arguably has the broadest appeal for anyone in the family. Inspired by a true story, the screenplay was written by Tony’s son along with other collaborators. It’s truly an uplifting story about challenging injustice especially through Dr. Shirley as portrayed by Ali, in a role that will certainly get Oscar attention. Mortensen is also excellent as Tony Lip, who is constantly cracking jokes and stuffing his face with food throughout the film. For someone who became a star for playing a fantasy action hero, it’s a hilarious departure for Mortensen. In fact, although this film deals with overcoming racism and serious themes, it has a number of big laughs. The use of humor has always been a trademark for Farrelly, but it was surprising to see it work so well with a film that is centered on prejudice.
Bottom Line: Green Book is a heartwarming drama peppered with unexpected humor that will catch you smiling and laughing to yourself. The performances by Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen are remarkable and their unexpected bond is the core of the film and the overall message. The dramedy is worth a watch whether it’s in theaters or in the comfort of your own home.
Credits: Written by Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly and Brian Currie; Directed by Peter Farrelly
Cast: Viggo Mortensen (Tony ‘Lip’ Vallelonga), Mahershala Ali (Dr. Don Shirley), Linda Cardellini (Dolores), Sebastian Maniscalco (Johnny Venere), Dimiter D. Marinov (Oleg), Mike Hatton (George)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Running Time: 130 minutes
Jessica DeLong © November 21, 2018