Green Book, rated PG-13
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini
Austin Family Critical Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Peter Farrelly’s Green Book is a moving, delightful holiday surprise. The film is based on the real-life friendship between two men – Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), an Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx, and renowned concert pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), an African-American man who lives atop Carnegie Hall in an almost secluded castle. The two meet when Shirley is planning his concert tour of the American South in 1962, and he interviews Lip to serve as his driver (and, in a sense, bodyguard) as they venture into heavily segregated territory. The two aren’t a natural fit, but the arrangement is settled, and they’re on the road.
Green Book is packed with all the hallmarks of a great road trip film. We’re given two instantly likeable and fascinating lead characters, and it’s simply a pleasure to sit back and spend time with them. Even as the film follows the conventional arc of hostility giving way to mutual respect, the excellent writing (by Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie and Nick Vallelonga, Lip’s real-life son) and the specificity of these two men (the characterization by both actors is exceptional) helps overcome such tropes.
As they travel farther south, of course, they’re met with even greater racial bigotry – including from the hosts of Shirley’s concerts. I was particularly struck by the nuanced look at how Shirley doesn’t feel he fits in with either the white southerners for whom he performs or his fellow contemporary African-American musicians. Some of the more striking moments in the movie involve Shirley simply watching other black southerners from afar, observing their way of life and his removal from their experience. The film also delves into how Lip and Shirley are separated not just by race, but also by class – and an inversion of the one you might expect in the 1960s.
Green Book is the sort of picture only a snob won’t respond to – and, of course, there are plenty of those folks already out in droves online, bashing the film. Never mind the level of thought and care put into this film by all parties, the strong sense of time and place invoked by the filmmaking, and the consideration Mortensen and Ali have put into making us feel the bond between these two men – some people, many of whom haven’t even seen the film, aren’t happy with its conventions. But for those who actually see it (and there will be many – Green Book is a crowd-pleaser through and through), the film that awaits you is a great one.
I have always been a fan of Peter Farrelly. He and his brother Bobby Farrelly wrote and directed some of the defining comedies of the 1990s, including Dumb and Dumber (1994), Kingpin (1996) and There’s Something About Mary (1998). When I was 13, I had the opportunity to interview Farrelly when he was in Austin shooting The Ringer (2005), a film starring Johnny Knoxville, on which Farrelly served as a producer. The interview was concerning the upcoming release of his film Stuck on You (2003), one of the most underrated comedies of the 2000s. I was so impressed not only by Farrelly’s kindness (he spent an hour with me in his trailer and then led me around the set), but also by the breadth of his interests (he’s written two novels, The Comedy Writer and Outside Providence). When I learned earlier this year that he’d leapt into dramatic filmmaking with Green Book, I was thrilled. This movie is a testament to his range as a director, and I’m excited to see where it takes him from here.
Green Book is rated PG-13 for one expletive and thematic content including racially charged language. Given its historical context and the warmth of this story, I encourage parents to take their kids (perhaps 10 and older) to see this – it’s a great family movie.
Jack Kyser is a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.