The relationship between an African-American piano player and an Italian-American driver in 1962 makes “Green Book” a funny and heartwarming film. Director Peter Farrelly (best known as one of the Farrelly Brothers) takes a different approach by introducing us to real-life characters portrayed by actors who deserve Oscar nominations. And those two would happen to be Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.
Mortensen stars as Tony Lip (1930-2013), a bouncer, who needs a job while the theater he works at is closed for repairs. Then, he receives a call about driving a piano player through the Deep South on a music tour, leaving his wife (Linda Cardellini) and boys for 2 months. He’s surprised to know that he is African-American. That’s right. It’s like “Driving Miss Daisy” in reverse. I heard it from someone, but looking at it, it’s true.
Ali plays Don Shirley (1927-2013), who keeps his stern dignity on the road, despite some racial discrimination. But mostly, he’s very strict with Tony’s behavior. He tells him not to litter, and to keep his eyes on the road. And he’s stereotypical in the ways he assumes he likes fried chicken and listens to Little Richard. But throughout this trip, they become good friends.
“Green Book” is fascinating in the ways it places two characters from different worlds in the same car, and takes its time to let them get to know one another. The reason Mortensen and Ali deserve Oscar nominations is because their acting is robust. One keeps his Bronx style, the other keeps his cool. Both of them are a match made in Heaven.
The movie is also funny with their dialogue and situations. Even back then with its racial discrimination, we can still have a sense of humor, and the two actors thrive tremendously. I found myself giggling, and there’s one pit stop that made me laugh so hard. I won’t spoil much, but involves a green rock.
The drama is sentimental in how the two characters deal with their issues, and the audience is gasping at the discrimination. In fact, there is a rainy scene, where Don Shirley expresses his feelings to Tony. Never once are we irritated, but moved.
Few things aren’t exactly clear, but everything else about “Green Book” is amazing. And Peter Farrelly, best known for making such comedies as “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary,” has expanded his horizons, making this his best work in years.
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