Patti Perret/Universal Studios
“Green Book” is a crowd-pleasing road trip of a film
February 8, 2019
Many films come along the way that are worthy of Best Picture: films that deserve to nominated and Oscar bait films.“Green Book,” is a rare film that draws a line in between both of those categories. Director Peter Farrelly brings his own take on the dramatic genre after a slew of comedy films such as “Dumb and Dumber,” and “There’s Something About Mary.” Farrelly’s brilliant direction balances humor and subtle, dramatic scenes into the buddy duo story. “Green Book” is a film that manages to be charismatic and offers a very surface level message on racism that appeals to nearly everyone.
The story takes place in 1962, a time of racial division and a lack of a GPS in sight. Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), an Italian bouncer is put out of work after the club he works at is in need of renovations. Mortensen plays his character as a larger-than-life persona that can be a delight to watch, even if his character can be irritating at times. In terms of physical features, Mortensen gained an additional 30 pounds and adopted an Italian accent for his role. Looking for employment, Tony searches for a part-time job that evidently leads him to find work as a chauffeur for the gifted black pianist, Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali). Shirley cultivates a superior attitude due to his knowledge and musical abilities. This creates him as an easy target for racism and hate from other people including from his own race. Vallelonga and Shirley will find themselves on a eight-week concert journey through the deep south – which means leaving family and trying to survive an array of life-threatening situations. The title is a reference to a The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide that provided information on available public services for black travelers during a time of Jim Crow and sundown laws.
A unique viewpoint on one’s culture
The most interesting aspect of “Green Book” is Shirley’s viewpoint of the world that he has come to embrace as his reality. On the way to North Carolina, Shirley gazes off to a wide plain filled with black laborer picking up cotton. Their sweat-soaked faces reflect an expression of astonishment and wonder as they have never seen a black man sporting a suit before. Shirley floats through the world as a individual at odds with mainstream African-American culture. Audiences do not often see the point of view of someone not personally connected with their own roots. Hence the fact, Vallelonga states “I’m more blacker than you!” because of Shirley’s lack of knowledge on black musicians such as Aretha Franklin.
A charming buddy-duo chemistry
Mortensen and Ali are marvelous to watch as they play off each other in unfriendly territory. “Green Book” puts the two in a turquoise cadillac, which creates for a chamber of heart, soul and humor. Farrelly utilizes them as a way to contrast their differences and provide commentary on racial barriers. In an initial scene, Vallelonga puts glasses drunk by two black workers in the trash can. The story turns into a silent walk of redemption for Vallelonga’s ignorance and Shirley’s snobbish view on his culture. As audience members, we already know Tony will connect with the harsh reality that blacks face and Donald will open himself up to his culture and driving companion.
A lack of depth on racism
“Green Book” takes a conventional route towards racism, rather than a confrontational way that is seen in films such as Blackkklansman. My biggest problem with the film is how safe it addresses the topic of racism. The film takes a direction that does not challenge the audience on racial issues. This could have added more depth to Shirley’s experiences as a black man and Vallelonga learning how awful racism is. Many people will not have an issue about this aspect of the film, but it could have benefited the film’s experience considering how complex Shirley’s character is.
The film is a relevant film that addresses racism in a serviceable way. I would personally say it is worth the price of admission just to see Mortensen and Ali’s incredible chemistry with one another. “Green Book” may not be the strongest film contender to discuss racism this year, however it manages to hammer a subtle reminder of the racial issues of today.