You had me at African-American musician and Italian-American chauffeur join to fight discrimination.
This is one of those “based on a true story” films that you have to see because the story is important to hear. During the Jim Crow era in the 60s, the classically trained pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) decides to go on tour in the Southern part of the USA. Because he is African-American, he is well aware of the problems he might face so he needs someone who can safely take him from A to B. What better choice for the job than the slightly selfish, Testosterone-driven Italian-American Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen)?
(The Green Book was a guide during Jim Crow laws that listed accommodations that would welcome black visitors)
Their dynamic is one of the most enchanting things to watch, as they collide and fight, console and love, and grow a relationship that is one of a kind. Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip gives an absolutely flooring performance. On the surface, his character fits into many cliches: toxic masculinity, rowdiness, the tight grip of an honor-bound Mafia mentality, the unwavering loyalty to family and the willingness to do absolutely everything for their own benefit, careless of others. However, you will not believe the changes he’ll go through. Mortensen completely vanishes behind this persona, a guy who is unbelievably lovable and yet so flawed. A wonderfully bitter-sweet mixture that seems to be the recipe for the entire movie.
Mahershala Ali (Don Shirley) is one of my favorite actors and his refined and controlled technique to portray this very troubled character is the perfect balance to the loud firework that is Tony Lip. Shirley definitely makes the list of the top 10 most inspiring characters in movies (and real life). He chooses to perform at places that are unwelcoming (to put it mildly) to Black Americans because he wants to contribute to progress. His strength is admirable since he has to stand his ground on two battlefronts simultaneously: the public persona tearing down the walls of oppression and his private self struggling with identity and sexuality. Identity and community can also stand in juxtaposition to each other and cause painful friction for Shirley.
“If I’m not black enough and if I’m not white enough and if I’m not man enough then tell me Tony what am I?”
Both Don and Tony know different kinds of hardships but it is their experiences together that change their perceptions of the world. Through their encounter, the movie smartly defies and parodies certain stereotypes while being respectful to traditions and cultural heritage. Despite some difficult-to-digest and disturbing topics, Green Book manages to be heartwarming in places of emotional struggle and desolation. And on top of that, it is insanely funny and sarcastic. All of these intricate parts and difficult-to-hit emotional notes are supported by sublime filmmaking – framing and music being my favorites.
Green Book takes a topic that might cause you to feel discomfort or even disgust but wraps it into the relationship of two characters whose dynamic is so touching and sweet, you simply have to smile and feel inspired to do better. It has everything a great movie needs: amazing story, great story-telling, outstanding performances, perfect pacing, effective humor and a powerful message. Go see it now!