Green Book (2018)
Green Book, the new film from Peter Farrelly (There’s Something Like Mary, Dumb and Dumber), is unlike anything the director has previously tackled. A friendship drama about the separation of race and class in 1960’s America, the story follows New York tough guy bouncer Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) as he drove pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) through a pre-Christmas tour in the Deep South. As they bridge their boundary of understanding in this feel-good movie–rather plainly made for white audiences by white filmmakers–the unlikely friends deliver their stories of acceptance in a humorous, touching screenplay from Tony’s son Nick Vallelonga, Farrelly, and Brian Hayes Currie (very possible winners for best original screenplay). Splendidly timed and nowhere near as predictable or saccharine as expected, the film’s charming examination of times troubled by prejudice is highlighted by Mortensen’s and Ali’s performances.
Viggo Mortensen is all character as the brash, unsophisticated Bronx native. Mocking his boss, spitting out Pimento sandwiches at formal events, accosting racist maitre d’s: Tony is the comedic opposite of the buttoned-up Dr. Shirley. Ali is reserved brilliance as the esteemed musician. Maintaining composure in the face of hatred or delving into the dark pieces of a life lived in secret, the solemn character gradually peels back his layers as the pair form a bond through arrests and altercations. Mahershala Ali is currently my favorite of the front runners to take his second Oscar, pulling a Christoph Waltz, but where you don’t hate all of his characters. Even as the straight man, Ali’s crisp diction, reserved manner and impeccable timing matches the bombastic sensibilities in Viggo’s Italian-American role. Linda Cardellini with little screen time lands the patience and loving, forgiving nature of the woman married to Tony’s unpredictability.
The plot can certainly come off as a white savior story, but with the white man taking on chauffeur and bodyguard duties, that correlation is unavoidable in this story; similar to Kevin Costner in Hidden Figures but far from the white ladies of The Help. This connection helped teach Tony a lesson and provided stability and security for Dr. Shirley. A sure hit this awards season.