Green Book tells the true-life story of African-American pianist Don Shirley, and Tony Vallelonga, his bodyguard and driver during a two-month tour of the deep south. A story of acceptance, understanding and love, the film uses a hilarious comic tone to underplay the powerful statement against racism, and is a triumph in both respects.
The film is directed by Peter Farrelly, who up until this point has been known mainly for directing gross out comedies with his brother; ‘Dumb and Dumber’ and ‘There’s Something About Mary’ to name but two. Here however, he has proven that a comedy director can still pack and emotional political punch while also delivering the perfect amount of character comedy and charm to blend the whole film together.
The performances in this film are absolutely sublime. Viggo Mortensen plays Tony Vallelonga with such a wonderful clueless charm, but also with a large heart and great confidence. The standout star, however, is Mahershala Ali as ‘Doc’ Don Shirley. His portrayal of the pianist is one of such restraint, such bottled anger and such high class that he is utterly believable as the chalk to Tony’s cheese. They are a fantastic onscreen duo with buckets of chemistry; if you love road trip comedies like ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ that throw together two unlikely friends, then this is a perfect film for you.
The film is named after ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book’, a 1960’s travel guide for African American travellers informing them where they could find motels and restaurants that would accept them. Just as was done in films like BlacKkKlansman, the film uses a common character type to represent the institutionalised racism of the deep south. Stupidity and judgement from rich old white people give a clear allegory to modern times, but it’s charming to see this message dealt with in a less violent and on the nose way.
It should be said that while this film is completely wonderful, it is fairly by the numbers. A plot device introduced about five minutes in made it immediately clear how the film was going to end, and once you’ve seen one ‘two guys from different worlds come together to discover friendship and maybe learn a little about themselves and each other’ film, you’ve seen most of them.
Just because the story is a little cliché, it does not take away from the fact that this is a stunning film. It’s absolutely hilarious but also emotional when it needs to be. Oscar Nominations will be flying towards the films leads, and I’d be surprised if the director and film itself don’t get nominations for creating such a fantastic tone for the timely narrative of racism and acceptance.