by Toby Woollaston
One half of the Farrelly directing duo, Peter Farrelly, has departed from the couple’s proclivity for comedy to deliver a heartfelt account of an unlikely friendship in the face of racial adversity.
Taking its title from a guidebook designed for blacks travelling through America’s racist south, Green Book is set in the sixties and focusses on two New York men. Tony “the lip” Vallelonga is a sloven working-class family man played by Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic), and Dr. Don Shirley is an educated classical pianist with impeccable social manners and a clipped sense of decorum, played by Mahershala Ali (Moonlight). Both are socially, racially and ideologically worlds apart, however, they are forced together through a mutual work arrangement that pits Tony as the driver and hired muscle to guide Don though the more unsavoury (racially speaking) parts of the southern states.
The pair’s racially charged trek through America’s hotbed of entrenched prejudice threatens to be a volatile powder keg ready to blow. However, as the film progresses the diatribe that is ever-present on the periphery never eventuates. Rather, the film amicably traces its road-movie sensibilities through a more peaceful narrative path, keeping non-violence at its moral heart, narrowing the focus instead onto their burgeoning friendship.
Some commentators have suggested that Green Book lacks the conviction of current contemporaries (such as If Beale Street Could Talk, Sorry to Bother you, BlacKkKlansman etc), instead opting for a sentimentality that is avoidant of the greater issues at stake. And sure, it’s not without its faults; the film stumbles over a few inconsistent character motivations and its well-telegraphed statements on racism err on the obvious, lending the film a slightly glib tone. But don’t let that put you off this otherwise well-intentioned crowd pleaser. Green Book makes the most of two superb actors at the peak of their powers and lives comfortably within its self-appointed mandate to herald the power of passive resistance and friendship. It’s charming, frequently funny and if you let your guard down it will melt your heart.
See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.