The life-transforming, "based on a true story" relationship between renowned black classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley and his more than slightly racist driver-bodyguard Tony Vallelonga during a 1960s concert tour of the Deep South powers the funny, touching, warmhearted audience-pleaser Green Book. But it is the chemistry between Mahershala Ali as the imperious, sad Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as loudmouthed, volatile Vallelonga—let alone the Oscar-baiting artistry on display by both actors—that’s going to send out audiences on a happy, feel-good high.
They begin the trip as sparring partners and, as they navigate the South in a flashy Coupe de Ville, they become closer as they confront segregation and discrimination from Jim Crow-loving white people nearly everywhere they go. Even when using the The Negro Motorist Green Book to find hotels and restaurants that will actually allow Shirley to be a customer, trouble follows.
The movie tackles prejudice with a light but poignant touch. Bigotry comes at Shirley from both the white and black communities, let alone from the hetero world (the elegant, princely, hard-drinking Shirley was married but was also attracted to men). Slowly and inevitably, they teach each other things. The bodyguard introduces Shirley to the world of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Aretha Franklin, Chubby Checker and Little Richard. Says Tony, inducing grimaces, “Doc, these are your people.”
Despite their shortcomings and vast differences, the two men come to not only tolerate each other but also to respect each other. Mortensen takes what might have been a clichéd goombah role and creates a funny, charismatic, brash and lovable character. He's a joy in every scene, and despite the odds, he makes so convincing an Italian that he wouldn't seem out of place in something by Scorsese.
Green Book won’t pass the sniff test for those demanding period realism or a hard-hitting, nuanced take on racism.
Green Book won’t pass the sniff test for those demanding period realism or a hard-hitting, nuanced take on racism. It’s earnest and uplifting, and it’s racial commentary isn’t subtle. Still, especially coming in an era marked by race-baiting and incivility, damned if it doesn’t move, entertain and push you to try to be a bigger person.
- The two leads shine in this uplifting charmer
- Probably best to not expect too much nuance