Green Book is the kind of moving holiday crowd-pleaser endowed with so much charm it’s sure to be an Oscar contender with equally memorable performances. In the current racially charged times, it might also just be for African Americans what PRIDE (2014) was for the LGBTQ, it could melt even the most prejudiced heart.
Directed by Peter Farrelly - Dumb and Dumber (1994), Green Book is a racial justice road movie with lots of humor that hits all the right notes. But don’t think wacky Dumb and Dumber type of buddy comedy. The laughs in this film come straight out of a genuine respect for its characters.
Based on true events set in 1962 America, Viggo Mortensen plays Tony (Lip) Vallelonga, a working-class Italian-American bouncer and con artist at a New York night club with a talent for “persuading people to do what they don’t want to do” and a lot of street smarts.
When the night club he works for closes down for repairs, he applies for a job as a driver for a gifted classical pianist and composer Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) who was a virtuoso performer and traveled all over the US with his trio playing for the country’s wealthiest establishments.
When the record company sends Don Shirley and his trio on a three-month concert tour through the deep South, which was highly segregated in the 60s, Don who happens to be a black musician in America at a time when African Americans were still looked down upon as inferior and dangerous, decides he will need the services of someone who can protect him while also getting him to all his engagements on time.
This unlikely pair and their awkward relationship play like a kind of Oscar and Felix odd couple, but as opposite as they are in every way possible, they also depend on each other for their survival and eventually gain a stronger bond and greater respect for each other.
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are perfectly cast and hold the audience completely enthralled. What we learn about these two people while spending time together on the road is often hilarious and heartwarming.
The Green Book of the title is a segregation era motorist travel guide for Black Americans faced with pervasive discrimination while traveling in America. Being refused accommodation and food by white owned businesses was a common dilemma for Blacks in the southern states, the Green Book helped them to find hotels and restaurants friendly to non-whites.
Being a colored person, Don Shirley was often refused entry to whites-only Hotels and restaurants, even at places where he was actually performing, so while Tony could stay and eat wherever he wanted, Don would often have to find other accommodations during their road tour.
The power of Green Book lies in its emotionally uplifting story, its inspirational message of love and friendship, and the way its flawed human characters are treated with humor and dignity without judgement. The closest film I would compare it to is the French hit The Intouchables (2011) in its portrayal of an improbable comradeship and triumph of the human spirit.
Winner of the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival where it had its World Premiere, this is one of funniest and moving films of the year.