Green Book by Peter Farrelly
We only get a brief glance at the ‘Green Book’ referred to in the title of Peter Farrelly’s Oscar-winning film. Regardless, that book, The Negro Motorist Green Book – a guidebook for African-Americans to safely navigate the segregated South – informs every inch of the long drive Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) take from New York City deeper and deeper into America’s southern states. Based on a true story, Green Book begins in 1962. Don, a black, classically trained pianist who plays jazz for Park Avenue’s white elites, hires the unsophisticated Italian-American Tony, a bouncer at the famed Copacabana nightclub, to be his driver and ‘muscle’ as he embarks on an eight-week tour into hostile territory.
Green Book is part road movie, part buddy comedy. It derives much of its warmth and humour from the unlikely friendship that develops between this mismatched pair. Its dramatic elements spring directly from the world Don and Tony drive through. Don, no stranger to racism, isn’t spared its pernicious indignities even when he’s welcomed into hallowed concert halls or the homes of the white and wealthy. Tony, who has absorbed all the prejudices of the period, finds them slowly dismantled by his growing admiration and respect for his new boss. Ali and Mortensen – two of the best American actors working today – play off each other in increasingly fascinating ways that enable us to see both characters as men of considerable integrity.
It has to be said that Green Book’s approach to racial politics in our ‘woke’ era is comparatively simplistic and light. Above all else, it is Hollywood entertainment, balancing sentiment with social authenticity. This film paints a portrait of two men who find in each other a new understanding of who they are, and it does this extremely well.