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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Green Book


Green Book Review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Director Peter Farrelly is best known for comedies--Dumb and Dumber, Shallow Hal, There's Something About Mary--so we were surprised to learn that he produced, directed, and co-wrote Green Book, one of the prestige films of 2018.  The "Green Book" was a travel guide aimed at African-Americans of the Jim Crow era who found themselves bound for southern states, advising them of safe routes, lodging, and dining.

Green Book is inspired by the true story of a 1962 concert tour arranged by the brilliant African-Amerian pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) that took him through the Deep South.  Given the year and the particulars of the tour, it is understandable that Shirley might seek a driver with an, um, particular skill set.  Enter Tony "Lip" Villalonga (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer at New York's Copacabana nightclub.  Come to think of it, Farelly is perfect to do a mash-up of a road trip/odd couple movie.  But Green Book is so much more than a Driving Miss Daisy clone, and a lot of the set-up comes from contradictions: Shirley fits in, but is not really accepted into White high society; Tony is accepted (because he is White) but does not fit in.  Shirley is on a mission; Tony just wants to make a few bucks to keep his beloved wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and two children in food and shelter.  Shirley is a loner who lives in a chilly apartment above Carnegie Hall, gorgeously appointed with African artifacts; Tony is from a huge and huggy Italian clan that frequents his family's apartment with meatballs on the stove and rotting linoleum on the floor.

Despite all of that and an interview process in which Tony seems to consciously undermine himself, he is hired as Shirley's driver, but only after Shirley seeks and obtains Dolores' permission for Tony to be away from home for two months (the real engagement took a year).  That the tour is not a smooth drive goes without saying, and the contract states that Dr. Shirley must make every performance or the tour is cancelled with no pay for anyone.  While interactions with local denizens at the various performance venues provide dramatic interludes, the interpersonal adjustment to the quirks and foibles of Dr. Shirley and (mostly) Tony delivers most of the laughs and more than a few head-shaking moments.  But the heart of Green Book is in the evolution from an employer-employee relationship to that of two men who have developed deep feeling for each other, and the chemistry between Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen make it work beautifully.

The screenplay crackles with wit and just enough pathos to make important statements without bludgeoning the audience, and the entire cast is excellent, particularly Cardellini.  But the film belongs to the two men.  The guess here is that Ali's reserved, nuanced role finds Supporting Actor nominations while the showier in-your-face bombast of Mortensen is recommended for Best Actor consideration.  This is not to demean the latter's performance; in fact, the Danish Mortensen so inhabits Tony's Italian skin, he may become the favorite in his category.  In many ways, this is the perfect movie for the holidays; it even ends on Christmas Eve, and its present may be a best Picture nomination.  On a down note, the film has faced some backlash with a few deriding its "White Savior" trope.  We would be among the first to detest that, particularly in these times, but in this case we call BS.  Such critics are looking for trouble, based on surface appearances; in fact, we might argue that those critics haven't seen the film.  If the only way one can "save" another is through brute force, then, yes, it is a white savior film.  But Dr. Shirley also "saves" Tony, albeit in quieter, gentler ways.  In sum, each member of this odd couple helps the other; lifts the other up, and in the end, they complete each other.
8.5 out of 10 on both Artistic and Entertainment Scales.

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