Verdict: A feel-good movie with the right balance of drama and humor.
Green Book is the latest in the list of Hollywood films this year that tackle racial issues and it is one of the best. Directed by Peter Farrelly (whose most notable film happens to be Dumb and Dumber), this film has already won several awards at various film festivals, including the People’s Choice Award at TIFF, and it is even in line for Oscars – and it simply takes one viewing to find out why.
What’s Green Book About:
Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) is an Italian-American New Yorker who works as a bouncer at Copacabana. It’s the 1960s and racism is prevalent, and even though Tony is a good guy, he isn’t that open-minded. So when he is offered the opportunity to drive around Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), an African-American pianist around the South as his trio tours venues, he is hesitant to work for a black man and be away from his family for a few months. But with money being tight in the household and his wife (Linda Cardellini) encouraging him, Tony accepts the job to drive Dr. Shirley. This becomes a learning experience for both of them, especially for Tony who comes to know about the Green Book – a real-life travelogue meant to spread the word about safe spaces for black people in America – and why it needed to exist.
The performances from both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are award-worthy. Viggo, who is actually Danish-American, seems completely at home as a foul-mouthed, confident, and a little short-tempered Italian-American who can take care of any problem that might arise. And when there is a white man driving a black man through some particularly racist parts of the country, there is bound to be trouble. Mahershala Ali plays a dignified pianist who is aware of the racial tensions in the places they visit but is quietly determined to fight it in his own way. As you see his face taking such joy playing the Steinway piano, it’s a marvel that it’s not actually him doing the close-up shots – it’s the film’s composer Kris Bowers. Mahershala perfectly depicts the African-American artists who don’t feel like they belong in any community even as they are admired for their talents.
Tony and Dr. Shirley don’t quite get along from the very beginning and seeing their relationship evolve as the film unfolds is delightful. Knowing that it’s based on a real-life friendship and one of the writers happens to be Tony’s son, makes Green Book all the more heart-warming.
Green Book is also surprisingly hilarious for a film that has some serious topics. It’s not just because we get to see Dr. Shirley is being silently disapproving from the back seat of the turquoise 1962 Cadillac Sedan DeVille or Tony’s insatiable appetite that has him stuffing his face with every edible thing he comes across – there are jokes that consistently deliver through the film. There are also some serious moments that make you fear for the safety of the two, but in the end, Green Book will leave you in high spirits.
What Could’ve Been Better:
It’s not designed to be a particularly hard-hitting film, considering the topic. But even then, the film manages to talk about sensitive issues and still have you feeling good. It achieves what it sets out to do.
Why You Should Watch:
Before the Oscar season comes around, make sure to watch Green Book to know why it’s a film to root for. It will make you laugh and also maybe a bit teary near the end – and for all the good reasons. Green Book is a biographical comedy-drama that entertains and also uplifts your mood, and a film can’t get any better than that.