By Jack Dignan
Green Book is a testament to the power of choosing the right genre. We’ve all seen films that shouldn’t have been quite as serious as they ended up being, or, on the other end of the spectrum, films that took its serious subject matter far too comically. And if you’re walking the line between tones, films that choose incorrectly tend to receive a lukewarm reception. Green Book, however, balances tone perfectly. This feel good comedy centered on a true friendship chooses to embrace the more lighthearted elements of its story, as opposed to leaning into a more serious drama, and it’s a decision that saved the film.
Viggo Mortensen plays Tony Lip, an Italian American bouncer struggling to find work during his off time from the club. So, to kill the time and pay his family’s bills, Tony is hired as a driver for famous classical pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), who’s touring through the various states of America over the course of several weeks. The problem for Tony is that Don is African American, which forces him to confront his inner prejudices... so cue a ‘racism solving road trip neither of them are ever going to forget.’
As an overall film, Green Book is fine. It’s completely serviceable and competently produced. I completely understand how it’s managed to win all those people’s choice awards at its several film festival appearances so far, for this is about as crowd pleasing as they come. Peter Farrelly, his first time directing without usual co-director Bobby Farrelly, utilises his comedic origins to make one of the funniest road trip movies I’ve seen in a long time, embracing the quirks and imperfections of these characters in the most hilarious of ways. In fact, it’s so funny and brimming with affection that you almost forget how average it really is.
The story beats are sweet and endearing, and its heart is certainly in the right place, but Green Book is a story of racial prejudices that’s so obviously written by three white dudes making their first attempts at a semi-serious drama. Screenwriters Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga and Brian Hayes Currie don’t do a bad job with what they’re working with, and for all I know the true story could’ve followed this beat for beat, but its so surface level in its racial subtext, never delving deeper than traditional cinematic depictions of racism. It struggles to offer anything new or substantial, failing to create a unique perspective for anything, which results in a muddled attempt at drama.
Mortensen and Ali do the best with what they’re working with, but they deserve to work together again in a much better movie. Mortensen is transformative as an over the top Italian American bouncer, who’s so much of a stereotype that it actually works, and, according to the real life family members of Tony Lip, feels completely authentic. His never ending eating habits and excessive diet lends itself to plenty of laughs, and despite his prejudices, you can feel that deep down he’s still a good guy. He just needs a shove in the right direction, and that’s what this film explores. But it’s Ali who, as always, knocks it out of the park. There’s a single moment that manages to go beyond what’s on the surface, leading to an emotional speech in the rain, and it’s without a doubt the clip they’ll be playing during his awards campaign.
Green Book may not be a great film, but it’s definitely a good one. When the film cut to black after a final line that’ll bring a delighted smile to your face, the crowd at the world premiere went absolutely nuts. It’s an easygoing, joyous road trip movie that you can definitely expect to see playing on TV every weekday afternoon. Even if you don’t rush out and catch it in cinemas later this year, your television is going to make sure you see it at least three times over the course of your lifetime. It’s time to embrace the cheese, the silliness and the heart it has to offer, because this film isn’t going anywhere, and you’re probably going to be hearing a lot more about it as time passes by.
3 1/2 Stars
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