Green Book is the story of Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), and his new employer Doctor Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). Tony has made his career working job to job to support his family. His typical duties include being an enforcer at a nightclub, but he’s also happy to enter into a hot dog eating contest for the right amount of money. When income gets sparse, Tony agrees to work for Shirley, a renown classical pianist. Shirley is about to engage in a concert tour of the Midwest and deep south which requires a driver with a certain skill set. That latter qualification is especially important given Shirley’s dark skin and the fact that it is 1962. Conflict is likely on the schedule.
RELATED: Peter Farrelly’s Green Book Wins People’s Choice Award At Toronto International Film Festival
What works in Green Book is the chemistry, both in terms of characters and tone. Mortensen and Ali are both fantastic playing both teacher and student as their relationship unfolds and blossoms. Tony is blunt, but he engages life with infectious happiness and enthusiasm. Doc Shirley is refined, but isolated. Watching the duo learn about each other and themselves over the course of their road trip is simply heartwarming and wholly believable. While it’s a tale as old as storytelling, watching two seemingly polar opposites discover commonalities can still be uplifting and refreshing, if the right talent is in play, and Green Book has cast their two leads perfectly.
Director Peter Farrelly (Dumb And Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) proves a master of balancing drama and humor. His narrative in Green Book is almost like the songs Doc Shirley bangs out—a perfect harmony that knows exactly which notes to play and when in order to keep the audience entertained. There are moments of heightened tension which astute audiences will likely be waiting for given the variables at play, but there is also plenty of comedic relief which comes in both in the form of playful banter as well as lightly showcasing the two men’s ignorance of the other’s culture and worldview.
While Green Book is a fantastic ride, thanks Mortensen and Ali working off of a well-constructed script (contributed to by Tony’s actual son, Nick Vallelonga), some audience members might decry that the film handles the heavy material too lightly or strays too far from history. One could imagine Farrelly’s counterargument would be that some films about race relations and civil rights can benefit from levity and palpability. To that end, it’s possible (if not probable) that Farrelly captured the spirit of his characters and their friendship rather than the recreation of actual events or dialogue beat for beat. Furthermore, the dramatization likely came with the approval of Tony’s surviving family members, as many of them play Vallelonga’s relatives in the film, which gives Green Book an added layer of authenticity.
Green Book is a fabulous look into the lives of two great people, who only became greater thanks to the other. It is a feel-good concert about friendship and learning to truly see the world through another person’s very different eyes. Look for Green Book to appear on several “Best of 2018” lists as it moves into awards season.
Recommended if you liked: Captain Fantastic, Hidden Figures, Driving Miss Daisy
Final Grade: A
Probable Academy Award Nominations:
- Best Picture
- Best Actor in a Leading Role – Viggo Mortensen
- Best Sound Mixing
Possible Academy Award Nominations:
- Best Director – Peter Farrelly
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Mahershala Ali
- Best Costume Design
- Best Original Screenplay