Since its premier at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Green Book has been gaining strong reactions. On the one hand it is being praised as “A touching and meaningful look at race and class in America” and in the other panned as “a film not about racism; but a true story of a white man noticing racism”. The truth however lies somewhere in the middle.
The film follows well-meaning but racist Italian American bodyguard Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) as he drives African American concert pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) through the deep south in 1960s America. With a little help from the titular Green Book or The Negro Motorist Green Book the two men begin to form a bond and realise they aren’t all that different.
If that at all sounds like a reverse Driving Miss Daisy that is because it is. The script, co-written by Nick Vallelonga the son of Tony, is funny and heartwarming but lacks depth. It allows modern audiences to feel good about themselves and how far we’ve come when it comes to race rather than reflect on how far we still have to go. This isn’t in and of itself a bad thing but it means the film never reaches its full potential as it continuously plays it safe.
The film’s success is thanks largely to the performances, Mortensen plays the over-the-top role to great success playing the stereotype of the passionate but uneducated Italian American but never crosses the line into parody. His performance never lacks authenticity and heart. But the true star of the movie however is Ali who brings to life a character we rarely get to see in movies set in the modern day let alone period pieces, a well educated, kind, soft spoken, black man. Linda Cardellini is also a treat in her supporting role as Mortensen’s wife.
While not flashy, the direction of the movie keeps it moving and allows the performances and the script to shine. Director and co writer Peter Farrelly manages to walk a fine line by bringing out the humor of the piece without it distracting from the message, however safe that message may be.
Green Book might not go down as one of the greatest movies of all time but it is far from one of the worst either. The movie is certainly worth a watch. You’ll enjoy the watch it but once it’s over it won’t sit with you for a long time.
If you feel so inclined feel free to check out my audio podcast review of the film