HOLLYWOOD—It has been heralded by many as one of the best films of 2018, and dare I even say, I have to agree at this point. There is something about the dramedy, “Green Book” that strikes a chord with the viewer. Yes, I’ve labeled the film a dramedy as it has tones of drama with sprinkles of comedy in the mix. The teases for the flick give little to the narrative and one might think it’s a tale about a race relations between an African-American man and his driver, who just so happens to be Italian, which is true, but friendship is the theme at its core.
This is a film carried by two phenomenal actors in Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali who portrays pianist Don Shirley, and Oscar-nominee Viggo Mortensen who portrays bouncer Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga. This is a softer role for Ali who grew to fame for his stirring performance in “Moonlight,” while Mortensen portrays a character that has many layers underneath him. It was quite a revelation to watch Mortensen convey such subtleties with a character; it’s riveting to watch as a viewer.
Don and Tony’s first encounter doesn’t go well, with the rumble tumble Tony taking offense to Don’s prim and proper approach to life. However, the journey of friendship is explored in a way that does feel rushed. We see the grapples between two very different personalities and how one’s experience with certain individuals provides a bit of a perspective for his counterpart who has never walked in his pal’s shoes. It echoes largely that sentiment of never judging a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.
It is a clash of the cultures and the narrative explores the dos and don’ts of both cultures in a way that are relevant without being too vicious in nature. That might be the one concerning element of the movie; it has all the makings of elevating itself to a higher stature if it ventured into darker territory, but the filmmakers choose to keep things light. The audience never gets to see the reality of the fear many African-Americans experienced venturing into the Deep South during the 60s.
The script touches on those moments without the material being too heavy. Solid, but if it pushed the boundaries just a bit more it could elevate an already phenomenal flick into something stellar. It was a wonder to discover that Peter Farrelly, who is primarily known for his resume in the comedic world heralding such comedies as “There’s Something About Mary,” “Dumb and Dumber” and “Shallow Hal” is capable of putting his fingerprint on such a poignant drama. That is the wonder of “Green Book,” as strong as some of its dramatic moments are, we get those lighter moments of seeing Tony and Don bond over eating chicken, or Don teaching his pal how to convey how he truly feels in a love letter to his wife, Dolores (Linda Cardellini). It’s those things that make the movie resonate with the viewer.
The movie teases questions about Don’s sexuality, which are not fully explored in the narrative. That’s a slight weak point in the script in my opinion; if you’re not going to fully explore the idea, what actual purpose does it serve to the movie to hint at it? Does the audience get the inclination that Tony may have been ‘impacted’ by that revelation? To a degree, but it doesn’t go much further than what is depicted on the big screen.
There is a balance to the comedy and drama, which is not easy to do with such material, especially one based on a real-life story. The biggest selling point for “Green Book” is its tone; it’s a movie that has tons of relevance without really forcing the issues of race relations down the spectator’s throats. The filmmakers find a way to convey their message through two very unique characters that carry the movie from start to finish.
There is no denying the fact that Mortensen and Ali deliver some of their best acting work to date, where the accolades they are receiving are deserving to say the least. “Green Book” is a film that finds a way to wow you without doing too much to convey a story of friendship that quite frankly would have never flourished if Don hadn’t given a guy with a major temper a second chance.