There’s a lot at stake for Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) as he turns up for a job interview at Carnegie Hall. A crooning charmer with 'an innate ability to handle trouble', his next gig offers more than his ego can stand at first. Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is a renowned, solitary musician who needs a right-hand man for his upcoming tour. He needs a driver, but not just any driver – preparing for the inevitable hostility of the itinerary, Shirley’s chauffeur will need to provide security, understanding, organisation and, of course, friendship.
The titular red herring is the Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guidebook offering tips on how to navigate racism on the road, surviving whites-only garages and service refusals across the country. Sitting safely on the dashboard, the book cinches the real-life weight the film tries to convey, offering a clear understanding of what’s at stake. The threat rears its head on several occasions, but this doesn’t force the film into despair, or rob the viewer of any feeling of eventual relief. The book often lies inanimate, within view but rarely jeopardising the good fun of a road trip.
Tony drives Don with a puffed-out sense of pride and unabashed hedonism. Mortensen fills a square, enlarged frame with a round belly and a face that glistens with the grease of fried chicken. He makes sense within a Farrelly Cinematic Universe of gross-out humour, which by definition celebrates topics that could be considered of poor taste, or overly vulgar. The actor capitalises on the charm in his body language, favouring caricatural Italian-American extravagance mixed with brash rudeness over any form of really subtle satire.
Complex insecurities define Don Shirley. He is judged by the colour of his skin, but also reckons with his sexuality and drinking issues in secret. The careful mannerisms that define his elegance also enhance his credibility as a performer and a man dealing with great pain. It’s surprising that the film remains so light, always lifting sorrow as soon as it seems to lose sight of the heartwarming happy ending.
Facts don’t lie, the world already loves Green Book. Taking home the People’s Choice Award in Toronto, Farrelly’s buddy trip seems set for a hopeful awards season. Enlightening a moment in history through the prism of an imperfect America and a likeable pair of pals who see friendship blindly, there’s enough to give food for thought without leaving an aftertaste of guilt for anyone who might seem concerned.
The film could potentially break dangerous ground in the wrong hands. Over worried whispers of a 'white saviour' narrative, Farrelly offers genuine care for a rare situation, focusing more on how to break a smile than disrupt the status quo. Simple comedy doesn’t hinder the story’s likeability, but it doesn’t allow a more powerful lesson to shine through either. Effective in its aim but hardly revolutionary in its concept, Green Book follows a guidebook with the best intentions, and reaches its destination just in time for dinner.
Reviewed at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Green Book hits UK cinemas on 8 February 2019.
|What||Green Book film review|
08 Feb 19 – 08 Feb 20, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|