Green Book is definitely one of those movies that will take you entirely by surprise. The film’s premise and trailer, indeed, set up this white saviour reverse Driving Miss Daisy. Whilst the movie certainly has elements of this, it also goes beyond this. That’s because of the core real-life friendship at the centre of it.
Directed by Peter Farrelly, who created Dumb and Dumber and Shallow Hal alongside his brother Bobby, Green Book revolves around the very true story of Tony Lip and pianist Don Shirley. Don hires tough bounce Tony to drive him around concert halls in the deep south following the guidelines of the titular book; a guide for black Americans in navigating safe spaces for them. Despite being at odds at first, Tony and Don grow a fondness whilst they also face severe violence and prejudice.
Co-written by Tony’s son Nick Vallelonga, who heard his stories from both his father and Don Shirley growing up, there’s an air of authenticity to the film that imbues the story with a loveliness. It’s apt at writing the conflict that Don Shirley suffered at the hands of deep-seated racism in Southern America.
Green Book greatly develops this relationship in an intimate and understanding way. The pair are at odds at first – the film doesn’t skirt over Tony’s own racist views and Don Shirley ruminates quietly to themselves. Through overlong drives and battling the awful prejudice they receive,) the two men find a warmth between them. The natural progression of companionship feels realistic and brings a lovely energy to this unexpectedly charming road movie.
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali really take charge with these roles and it’s through these two actors that a spirituous alliance comes forth. Piling on the pounds for his role as wise-quipping, thick fisted Tony, Mortensen evolves Tony gradually. At the beginning, the film is honest about Tony’s racial views and does not skirt over them. However, it also shows that a man can overcome his ignorance. Tony sees a fellow with Don and whilst it takes time for them to evolve together, Tony does learn. Mortensen is great in this brash yet sentimental role, proving again that he can dig deep into characters such as Lip.
It really is Mahershala Ali who defines an outward grace masking a quiet rage in this impeccably cast role. Through mannerism and the way he positions himself (plus some amazing costuming,) Ali transforms and balances all the different emotions buried inside Shirley. Since his work on Moonlight and Daredevil, Ali has proven that he is one of greatest actors working today. This is clear with the performance his does in Green Book.
The two actors have a genius rapport together and their chemistry carries this movie. It’s pitch-perfect casting with the leads who are having fun uncovering this tale.
Green Book is a great film that is helped by its two lead actors. The pair are absolutely incredible together telling a tender story that courses through troubled times. Whilst there is something quite naïve in the moral message of the story, it is still sweet and lovely to see. That there is growth and love and understanding out there and we should embrace it when we can. Green Book is a handbook of niceness from Peter Farrelly.
Note: Green Book showcases some impressive food scenes that’ll make you absolutely starving.
Green Book played as part of BFI London Film Festival!