Written by Brian Hayes Currie and Peter Farrelly and directed by Farrelly, “Green Book” is the story of the unlikely road trip of working class, Italian-American bouncer Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and African-American homosexual classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). Tony leaves his wife, Dolores (Linda Cardellini), and kids to drive and protect Shirley on his tour in the deep South at the height of Jim Crow. Along the way, they peel back layers of their personas and become more accepting of each other’s different lifestyles.
It’s “The Odd Couple” meets an opposite version of “Driving Miss Daisy”, a very predictable but nevertheless moving story of bridging divides and values and realizing how similar we are across cultural barriers and upbringings.
The film does a good job of establishing contrasts and building up the relationship between Tony and Dr. Shirley from polar opposites to friends. Whether or not any of it is true is open to discussion, but in terms of filmmaking and writing, it’s a serviceable job with setups and payoffs and proper arcs. The one true downside in terms of characters is Tony’s wife, Dolores, who, like so many other wife characters, is relegated to moral compass and not given a lot to do while the story focuses on the men.
In this era of hypersensitivity in regards to race, many might take issue with films about racism that are created by white men and feature a white protagonist. Twenty or even ten years ago, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue as it is today, and there seems to be a cloud hanging over the story somewhat despite the mostly good job it does in tackling issues of acceptance and culture. It’s a discussion that will continue for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps the best discussion “Green Book” tackles is the concept of blackness. For Dr. Shirley, he is not perceived as black because of his high culture and distrust of so many black cultural symbols such as fried chicken and not knowing the music of Aretha Franklin and Little Richard. Being black enough is a burden for him because of how he views himself and injecting that theme into the narrative gives the film an added depth.
All in all, “Green Book” is a very enjoyable film that ties everything together in a neat bow, for better or worse. It’s an awards-friendly story that manages to win you over with its heart and laughs, a not-so-serious approach to a very serious subject.