Green Book Director: Peter Farrelly Writers: Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini Studio: Universal Pictures Rated R | 130 Minutes Release Date: November 16, 2018
Race is a touchy subject for any film to address. But Peter Farrelly‘s Green Book addresses it earnestly and with heartwarming charm. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali give us two of the most powerful performances of the year.
While it is a familiar story that doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, it reminds us that something as simple as friendship can be powerful enough to break down the barriers of racism and social inequalities. My full review below.
Mortensen plays Tony Lip, a tough and blunt bouncer for the Cococobana Night Club in New York City. But when the club closes for renovations, Tony is unable to keep up with the rent. So while he does side-show tricks like eating contests as a short-term way to keep a roof over his family’s head, Tony needs to find something for the long-term. That opportunity arrives when Tony gets a very lucrative job offer
He will have to take Doc Don Hudson (Ali), a world-renowned African-American pianist, who is about to embark on a tour of the deep south. Doc is in need of a person with Tony’s skills, and believes that Tony is the only one who can do the job. He even goes as far as calling Tony’s wife to get him to take the job. While the two couldn’t be more mismatched, the pair soon becomes the best of friends on this road trip of a lifetime.
While on this tour, Tony has to rely on the Green Book, which is a book of locations where African-Americans are welcomed. This trip will be an eye-opening experience for the both of them.
Sure, the fact that Green Book is based on true life events makes Farrelly’s film paint-by-numbers and formulaic. So it all hinges on how good the performances are. Thankfully, Mortensen and Ali give the best performances of the year. Their chemistry is simply magnetic. You can’t help but keep your eyes on the screen as their working relationship evolves into friendship.
Green Book is a change of pace for Farrelly. The director is better known for comedic efforts like Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, and The Three Stooges. Here, he goes in for something comedic with a dramatic angle to it. And because of the film’s true story setting, there is weight to racism, prejudice, homosexuality, and even identity that you will see in the film. Real social issues that continue to affect us today. So even though this film takes place during the 1960s, Tony and Doc’s experiences on the road and their friendship is something that we see today and something that everyone can aspire to.
Green Book is also a haunting reminder of how ugly America’s past prejudices were. And at the same time, it puts Doc in the horrible position of being caught between two societal worlds. On one side, he is a renowned pianist trained in the art of classical music playing for white people. On the other side, his rich and luxurious lifestyle is a stark contrast to the African-American community who has to suffer and endure the atrocities of living in a society where their rights have been virtually taken away from them. So even though Doc plays for whites, he still has to abide by living in a coloreds-only society while also being ostracized for his career choice.
This makes it difficult for Doc to reconcile with who he is. His classical music training and lack of familiarity of popular R&B artists make it seem as if he isn’t black. His refusal to interact with other blacks at a coloreds-only location puts him in a very awkward position as they see him as being too high and mighty and too good to play a simple game of horseshoes with them. However, Tony helps him reconcile with the fact that Doc should be who he is and that even though anyone can replicate the great classical musicians of the past, no one can do what Doc does.
Those contrasts are the very reason why the chemistry between Mortensen and Ali works. With Tony, we see a blue-collared no-nonsense worker who is devoted to his family. He may not be the sharpest person around the block, but he learns rather quickly. He witnesses the ignorance and prejudices that Doc has to endure while on this tour. And what he sees will change his perception of Doc. At the same time, Doc helps Tony be a better person and expresses how dignity, not violence, can overcome the greatest of conflicts. And this road trip helps bring to light how Doc courageous act to go into the deep south, where he is not welcomed, is not for the money, but something deeper and more meaningful.
And we get to see how far their relationship has developed on the road when Tony is overjoyed to see a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Kentucky. Tony is shocked to learn that Doc has never eaten fried chicken. He believes that because he is black, he must like it. Of course, his narrow assessment does come off as ignorant. But once Doc gets the first taste of it, his reaction to what he has been missing is priceless. And then Farrelly manages to make things lighter by showing off how to dispose of the bones. It’s a moment that brings levity to a heavy film with heart and humor.
Green Book is exactly the kind of film that we need during this time. Racism and prejudice are still very much a part of our lives, especially when we have someone in a leadership role whose rhetoric reinforces the idea of divisiveness. Mortensen and Ali make for a terrific pair as they are able to bounce off each other while also developing each other’s characters to becoming better people.
While it would be disingenuous to assume that one film could ever solve these social problems that plague us today, it’s good to know that friendship and laughter can help us through these dark times and help us forge something stronger by reminding us that we are more than just the color of our skin.