A movie like Green Book sounds like another version of Driving Miss Daisy. This time, the roles are flipped; where the white person is driving the black person. Two people from completely different backgrounds. They learn about their prejudices and eventually becoming best friends. Peter Farrelly, known for directing such funny comedies with his brother Bobby as Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, and The Three Stooges, offers so much more than that in his first solo feat that couldn’t have come out at a much better time.
The year is 1962. The Civil Rights Movement is in full swing. Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a black pianist, is about to go on a two-month tour through the Deep South. Tony Vallelogna a.k.a Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a white bouncer from New York City with a lovely wife in Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and two kids, is in need of a job while the Copacabana bar is temporarily closed for reconstructions. He reluctantly accepts to be Don’s chauffeur throughout the tour after receiving The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide for black tourists containing segregated places throughout the South.
Despite their snobbish attitudes, they eventually begin to learn about the reality of the South and hard imagining not having each other’s back.
As Don and Tony, Ali and Mortensen (who gained 45 pounds for the movie) are pitch-perfect playing off each other. Don is a Cuban immigrant, polite and well-educated, while Tony is Italian-American, ignorant and thinks violence would get away with anything. Tony begins to follow Don’s rules and talk to about where they come from, and in need of Don’s help to write more expressively in his letters to Dolores. On their first night in Pittsburgh, Tony is impressed by Don’s piano abilities, he goes far as saying he “plays like Liberace but better.”
There are a handful of laugh-out-loud moments. Throughout the trip, Tony introduces Don to the popular music that consists of black artists including Little Richard and Aretha Franklin. However, Don has no idea who they are. Later, Tony offers Don a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken, in which Don reluctantly accepts. It comes to show that because his race enjoys those foods, doesn’t mean he has to. There are small moments that make the movie shine. I don’t see why these two great actors won’t earn Oscar nominations.
To quote Christy Lemire, “Green Book is the kind of old-fashioned filmmaking big studios just don’t offer anymore. It’s glossy and zippy, gliding along the surface of deeply emotional, complex issues while dipping down into them just enough to give us a taste of some actual substance.”
I couldn’t say it better myself. This is a buddy road trip film and a history lesson that works on both of those levels, kudos to Farrelly (who served as a co-writer) for bringing the 1960s to life through his confident direction. There’s a great message about no matter what color your skin is, the only way to view them is as one. This perfect film for the Christmas season is another contender for one of the best films of the year.