Disclaimer: I’m Italian-American.
There are people who would say a film like Green Book is passe, better left to the dustbin of cinema history. According to them, they are no longer necessary or kosher in 2018, the year of our Panther. I would assume those same people would agree that racism is still alive in these United States of America, embodied by the Executive Branch and even members of the Legislative Branch, not to mention scores of voters who voted for them. Well, hate to break it to ya, but if racism is still a problem, more pervasive now than ten years ago, then the Green Books of the world are still very much necessary. In a world where differing points of view are shouted over social media, Green Book is still necessary. In a world where, to some, no black man protesting is correct protesting, Green Book is still necessary. And in a world where, to some, being suspect or unsavory (and black) is bounds for a bullet to the chest or head by police officers…Green Book is still necessary.
Peter Farrelly’s big foray into prestige drama filmmaking is not a great film. While based on a true story, it’s not particularly original or enlightening in the way it puts forward those ideals of racial harmony we know and love. However, it put a smile on my face for two hours, and there are worse things. Farrelly allows a pair of heavy-hitter actors to do the lifting, their chemistry and singular personas clashing or singing to riotous effect. Viggo Mortensen has never been better or fatter as Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, an Italian-American driver and hired hand from the Bronx who’d rather drive around an “eggplant” than fall into dirty work for the local mafiosos. Mahershala Ali has never been more against type, forgoing the quiet machismo of past characters for the outspoken intellectual and troubled genius of one Dr. Don Shirley, a brilliant pianist who rose to fame during the 1960’s. Together they make a terrific odd couple pairing, Tony’s street-wise bullshitter contrasting nicely with Don’s highly educated candor. They deserve what’s coming to them: Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. They make the movie, and the screenplay by Farrelly, Brian Currie, and Tony’s own son Nick Vallelonga would make them into stars were it not for their already sizable reputations. Linda Cardellini and comedian Sebastian Manascalco make enjoyable impressions as Tony’s better half and not-so-better brother. ‘Cept his wife, Tony’s family is made of old-school guineas with a penchant for “spooks” in their limited vocabulary. Even Tony himself tries throwin’ out a pair of drinking glasses used by a couple of black repairmen at the start of the film. Like most of them, he’s got a feel-good arc to follow.
Green Book is a cliched yet entertaining road trip comedy elevated by the cartoonish reality (Tony Lip is no caricature) of Viggo’s mild swagger and the compelling layers of Ali’s many pretensions. It’s a story told from Tony’s point of view, yes, but Dr. Shirley’s life, self, and outlook are not lost amid Farrelly’s preoccupation with one man’s arc. It’s the tried-and-true story of prejudiced man learning to think differently, and it’s also a story about another prejudiced man learning the world need not be lonely. Between the workaday Italians bellowing over a game of baseball or the husbands and wives bickering over sandwiches and serial love letters…I may be biased. I eat that shit up with tomato sauce and wine. I live in Texas but my heart belongs on the East Coast. Either way, Green Book is the type of film still derided by the far left and ignored by the far right, but there are millions of people in between who still want or need a film that seeks to bridge that divide.