Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman takes a look at the new Peter Farrelly drama Green Book, out from 1 February in the UK…
Director: Peter Farrelly
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Maharshala Ali, Linda Cardellini
Peter Farrelly’s amiable and laidback vignette about the travails of a Jazz musician and his driver bodyguard on tour through the Deep South of the U.S. is a movie that wants it both ways – to be a crowd-pleasing, feelgood period piece and an Oscar-worthy “message movie”. Starring Mahershala Ali as a particularly restrained and effete African-American pianist, and Viggo Mortensen as an unreconstructed blue collar Italian New Yorker, the film is a carefully constructed and measured work which is essentially an odd couple road movie, inverted in its tropes for today’s audiences. It is without question a delight from start to finish, although this is inevitably achieved through a considerable amount of historical airbrushing. However, it is certainly a change of pace for such projects, as one could never accuse it of trying too hard.
Mortensen plays Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, a classic movie Italian New Yorker – brusque, street smart, boorish, yet a decent family man. Furthermore, he’s a bouncer at famed nightspot The Copa, mingling with Goodfellas cast-offs, conversing boozily in Italian while peppering his badinage with ethnic slurs that we all remember from The Sopranos. He’s not averse to punching out dissolute patrons, either. Needing work while The Copa is closed, Tony gets hired by Don Shirley (Ali) a decidedly cultured, eccentric and affectedly reserved musician, for a two month tour. As they begin their trek, the pair inevitably raise each other’s hackles, the hard-living (and eating!) Tony incapable of keeping his counsel. Reprimanded by his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) for his casual racism at the start of the movie, things should not bode well for Tony and his charge, but of course that is not the case. As this film isn’t catering for 1960s sensibilities, it would be unlikely that it would’ve been reminiscent of melodramas such as The Defiant Ones or In the Heat of The Night, so the tone is light, even as we descend below the Mason Dixon Line.
Although the film is not averse to focusing on the entrenched racism of the Southern States, it never allows the narrative to segue into tragedy, as Don Shirley wanders absurdly into a white-only bar at the first opportunity, only to be rescued by Tony, who rather quickly grows a conscience. And even more remarkably, when Tony fishes Shirley out of an even more acute spot (being caught by the fuzz at the YMCA in flagrante) Tony maturely philosophizes his way out of any issues he might have, puts Shirley at his ease, and the matter is never discussed again. There’s no question that the racism ratchets up a notch during the latter reels, and the odd unfamiliar concept (the deeply sinister Sundown Town, still highly prevalent during that era) is mentioned, plus the rank hypocrisy of Shirley’s hosts is beautifully rendered at his final gig in Birmingham, Alabama. But the movie never gets bogged down in naturalism for too long, allowing the odd element of fantasy to creep in – the twosome are somewhat charmed to navigate their way through such hostile places intact.
At the end punches are pulled and the Hollywood Ending that the audience secretly wants comes to pass – this is a heart-warming story of compassion for a polarised, venal today, gauze-filtering an equally divided past but doing it with panache, considerable style, an excellent soundtrack and enough witty, humorous moments that one can’t help but leave the movie gratified rather than stimulated. It’s almost a corrective to such preachy emetic as Dances with Wolves. The problems verbalised by Ali towards the end of the piece are still very much around today, but this movie firmly prioritises entertainment. A very pleasant two hours indeed.
Here’s the trailer for the film too