So Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (Best Supporting Actor, Moonlight) meets two-time Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises, Captain Fantastic) in Green Book, a dramedy made by Peter Farrelly. The movie is based on the real-life friendship that developed between pianist Don Shirley and his chauffeur-turned-comrade Tony Vallelonga during the '60s, when America was still mired in racial biases against coloured people. Quite an unusual theme to be handled by Peter Farrelly, (one-half of the Farrelly brothers, known for making low-brow comedies like Shallow Hal and Dumb and Dumber). So how good is Green Book? As warm as a plate of Christmas pudding, I must say, though not exactly inventive.
Tony (Viggo Mortensen) works as a bouncer in New York, whose ways of handling unruly customers is famous across the city. One of his brawls ends up in his club being closed for two months under the excuse of renovations. Needing work for that period, Tony gets a job offer to work as a driver/chauffeur for a famous African-American pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) for his tour in Deep South of America. In the '60s, those parts of the country were still immersed in high racial tensions and discriminations against the blacks. Being a racist himself, Tony is reluctant to take up the job, but a little nudge from Don in convincing the former's wife ( a pretty Linda Cardellini) does the trick. And so begins a drive on the path of bonding and self-discovery, as Don and Tony drive from city to city to play concerts and fight racial stereotypes.Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse Trailer: Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfeld Join the Cast.
Reading the above plot-line, you know how things would end between Don and Tony, even if you don't know the real-life story. There are a very few surprises that Green Book has to offer plot-wise, as the protagonists travel from one city to another, one white stereotype to another. Green Book often feels like the movie Driving Miss Daisy but in reverse, wherein here the drive is a racist white guy driving a black man around, as the latter faces insults, slurs and even beatings in nearly every city they go through.
Some of those situations sort of become repetitive, and we wonder why Don even bothered to visit these places when he is treated like this (though his piano performances get the applause). Then a supporting character gives a beautiful reason to a baffled Tony, and in turn, us, about Don's determinations - 'Genius is not enough. It takes courage to change people’s hearts'. It's then we realise that such lovely moments make Green Book so charming. Even though the ride goes on predictable lanes, it is the scenery that goes by which makes Green Book worth a watch, and more.
Many of those moments come from the unlikely and yet expected friendship built up between Don and Tony. Sure, the character development, especially of Tony's, feel rushed but the narrative makes up for it. From their banter at the breakfast table to Tony convincing Don to try KFC, their banter provides some really warm moments. Don may have failed his efforts to make an often uncouth Tony become sophisticated, but the experience of driving him makes Tony see the abuse coloured people face from white folks (and even becoming a victim, himself, of a racial slur). The scene I laughed the most was when a white couple driving in a car is shocked to see a white man driving Don. Tony's silent response to them (we didn't even realise till then that he had noticed) deserved cheers! Also, the scene where Don invokes an unexpected help when they land behind bars for assaulting a racist cop is a front-benchers-pleasing moment!
It's not a smooth, smile-filled road though. One scene that stuck in my mind was the one where their car breaks down in the middle of the road. Don steps out of the car to see a few Negroes working in a field. They stop their work and look at this tuxedo-wearing man of their community. Both the parties try to place each other and then they go back to what they did before. That one sequence says a lot about the country they live then (and perhaps even now).
And there are those scenes that will make you feel real bad for Don, even when he doesn't want you to. The darkest moment arrives when Don gets being caught up by the police soliciting with a gay hooker and Tony comes to his rescue. It might be Don's idea of defiance against the racist system, having been earlier turned out from a shop, sadly, he is kept away at his one chance of rebellion. Tony, thankfully, doesn't make a deal out of his homosexuality, leading to another sublime scene where Don tries to promote the former just to retain him. Mahershala is just terrific in those scenes, making us understand the pain and anguish his mental state is going through, breaking racial stereotypes about black in the process (like that scene where he argues with Tony that not liking all things black doesn't make him any less black. Green Book to Kick-start 14th Zurich Film Fest.
As for Viggo Mortensen (seriously, why haven't we given him an Oscar yet?), he delivers another fantastic performance. Providing most of the best laughs, he easily portrays Tony's transformation as an 'eggplant' (that's how Tony's folks describe the coloured people)-despiser to the one who berates his uncle for using the term in the climax. Linda Cardellini, playing the sole white person bereft of racial biases, gives a graceful performance. Also, the cinematography by Sean Porter and the pleasant score by Kris Bowers deserve special mention.
Watch the trailer of Green Book here -
- The performances
- Some heart-warming moments
- Not cumbersome
- Very predictable
- Have taken liberties with the real story
- Some character development feels rushed
Green Book is a feel-good affecting tale of an unlikely friendship that tugs at your heart-strings, in spite of having no ground-breaking narrative. Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen share a natural, warm camaraderie, backed by some terrific performance. And it is also an unexpected Christmas delight!