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Green Book – Movie Review

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Green Book – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

Based on his prior filmography, largely directing gross-out comedies, Peter Farrelly seems like an odd choice to make a film about racism in America during the 1960s. Green Book requires a lot of tricky waters to navigate through and by focusing on the unusual relationship between an Italian-American driver and a black pianist, Farrelly finds the route by which to tell the story. A lot of credit for the film’s likeability goes to the central performances by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. Their portrayals of Tony Vallelonga and Don Shirley could have fallen into stereotypes and Mortensen comes dangerously close. However, they pull it off and their friendship is believable.

From a story standpoint, the film doesn’t break away too much from the formula of the privileged white person who realises how hard life is for people of colour. However, that message is conveyed quite well, even in moments when it seems like Tony’s change is sudden. The movie establishes him as somebody who takes his jobs somewhat seriously and that allows his eventual transition to work. The best scenes in Green Book tend to involve Tony and Don in the car together and Farrelly gives his leads the space to act. Of the two, the movie does want the audience to sympathise with Don more.

The viewer agreeing with Don creates some of the funnier dynamics, although Tony isn’t necessarily the butt of the joke. The running gag involving Tony eating every kind of imaginable meal produces a good amount of belly laughs. The scene where Mortensen is required to gobble down an entire pizza has to be seen. The film is really about Tony realising how privileged his life is and the film either shows that through shocking scenes where Don is insulted or through little moments of humour. It’s also about him stopping and listening to Don, which plays a major role in his character development.

Viggo Mortensen gives a solid performance as Tony and is careful not to turn him into a caricature. This may also have to do with Tony’s own real-life son Nick Vallelonga co-writing the screenplay and likely providing guidance on how to properly portray his father. Mahershala Ali has a real understanding of Don Shirley, bringing his usual charm to the role and also showing the frequent exterior toughness he would have to publicly display. His cultured demeanor could have taken a wrong turn in both the writing and acting stage, but Ali pulls off the proper note. While she is mostly relegated to playing the standard wife role, it’s always nice to see Linda Cardellini appear in any film.

Green Book mostly rests on the great performances from its leads and allows them to carry the film through difficult terrain. While he is best known for making bodily function comedies, Peter Farrelly might be at his strongest when he’s handling sincere material like this film and the underrated Fever Pitch. There is an understanding of the time period and the racist climate of the era in Green Book, too. While one could argue it gets preachy at times, it’s necessary when telling a story like this. The attempts at humour also could have been wrong-headed, but Farrelly is able to make the tone shifts work and this becomes a pleasing and likeable production.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison