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Green Book Reviews

The Negro Motorist Green Book was published to help guide African American travelers as they drove around the South during the Jim Crow era. It might seem like a non-fiction survival guide for dodging White hate crimes in the South is unlikely source material for a buddy-comedy road trip story, but somehow the Green Book film makes it all work. It also might appear at first that Hollywood is trying to cash in on an interesting premise: what if a White guy was actually driving around someone who is Black in the Jim Crow deep South. But Green Book is based on the true story of the road trip where an out of work Italian bouncer takes a job chauffeuring Dr. Don Shirley, a Black piano virtuoso and Northern socialite. Dr. Don Shirley is masterfully performed by Mahershala Ali (House of Cards, Luke Cage,) who brings a much-needed subtlety to the role. He is as convicted in his beliefs that he must bring his genius to all of America as he is a virtuoso musician. Then he ends up trying fast food for the first time on their journey, because it’s a road trip. Tony “Lip” Vallelonga is played by Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic, Eastern Promises,) who has packed on some weight for the role. Known for being a serious bruiser in most of his films, he brings an air of authenticity to Tony’s no-nonsense attitude when it comes to getting things done. He learns to appreciate classical and jazz music as he tours venues that would otherwise have been foreign to him. The clear social and class divide between these two men is apparent, and their professional relationship gets off to a rocky start. Tony is none too thrilled to be subservient to a Black man. Likewise, Don would be much happier to have hired a Black driver, if he didn’t need the color of Tony’s skin to help get them through the tour safely. Despite the racial violence of their era, Green Book mostly steers clear of the shocking brutality we have been exposed to lately in other big studio pictures involving race relations. That and the fact that tense scenes tend to end with a nice release of humor allows for an easier ride across what could have been a very bumpy countryside. One of the most unlikely aspects of Green Book, is that it is helmed by gross-out, low-brow humor director Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber). Though he’s showed us that he can deliver more serious material with his recent Loudermilk and Cuckoo, he brings an older, more refined version of himself to the comedy here. Farrelly allows the organic chemistry between the actors to bring forth a great deal of the laughs. Teaming up with Tony Vallelonga’s real life son Nick Vallelonga, and Brian Currie (Armageddon, Con Air,) to write the script, we bear witness to a radical shift in one Northern White man’s perspective on how Black people really are, and how they were treated in the 1960’s. Green Book is a delight to watch, and works on many levels to tell a great story without preaching a message. General audiences will love the light-heartedness of what could have been a very serious drama, while comedy buffs will relish the abundant feel-good laughs paying off most of the scenes.