There have been a plethora of films that showcase racial tensions in America. Some films, such as 12 Years a Slave, can be difficult to watch due to this sensitive subject matter. Green Book, the latest film from director Peter Farrelly, tackles this topic in an enjoyable and easily digestible fashion. Couple this with outstanding performances from Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, and you have one of the best films of the year and a Best Picture contender.
Green Book follows the true story of African-American classical pianist, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), as he takes a tour of the deep South with his driver Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), an Italian-American tough guy and former bouncer. In today’s racially-charged climate there could potentially be trouble, but back in the 1960s trouble was all but expected. What you might assume to be a film that chronicles the often times disturbing racial tension of the 1960s, is actually a thoroughly entertaining story of what could be considered an oddball couple.
While Green Book is entertaining in many ways, it still makes the racial issues of the 1960s very clear. There are some powerful scenes that remind us of racial segregation, cultural divide, police brutality, and even the struggles of the LGBTQ. While these scenes are charged with emotion, Farrelly shoots them in a way that doesn’t feel forced. It’s like movie day in History class when you still learned something, but instead of taking notes on a lecture, you got to watch a film of historical significance. The information is there, and you still understand the terrible events taking place, but it’s much easier to digest.
In one particular scene, Tony Lip is tasked with pulling Don Shirley out of a situation that would surely have gotten him hospitalized at best, and hung at worst. The tension runs high as Lip uses his Italian finesse to negotiate Shirley’s freedom. At the conclusion of the scene, Shirley asks a very reasonable question to Lip, whose response helps to lighten up the scene and close it out with brevity. This helps to ease that terrible feeling that crept into the pit of your stomach at the onset of the scene.
There’s a fair amount of humor in Green Book. Most of the laughs come from the interactions between the sheltered Don Shirley and the crass, but caring Tony Lip. These interactions make Green Book more than just a film about race relations. The cultural differences between Shirley’s upper class tendencies and Lip’s working class mannerisms are also on display. They banter back and forth throughout the movie, but the journey of these two very different people becoming the closest of friends is one of the many highlights of the film.
The past few years have seen many films that showcase race relations. Hidden Figures, Moonlight, Fences, 12 Years a Slave and many more have offered a unique, yet familiar take on racism. While there’s a necessity for this, it’s the films like Get Out that really make a difference. They tell the story of racism in a more digestible manner that appeals to a wider audience, and therefore impacts more people. Green Book falls in line with Get Out as a film that offers a realistic take on racism in the 1960s, while still showcasing what a talented creative team can do to make such a film thoroughly entertaining.
Green Book is some of the best work to date by director, Peter Farrelly, and stars Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. It tells a story that needs to be heard, but does so in a way that’s easy to watch, despite the subject matter. It’s always difficult to predict Oscar nominations, but if Green Book doesn’t get at least a few nods, it would be a drastic oversight. Go see Green Book this weekend, and tell all of your friends to see it as well.
About Green Book
Synopsis: A working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.
Director: Peter Farrelly
Writers: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie
Stars: Linda Cardellini, Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali
Runtime: 2 Hours, 10 Minutes