I love the moment the lights dim, the curtain widens and the movie starts. Going to the cinema is one of life's great activities and should be enjoyed as much as possible.
Published January 29th 2019
A road trip to remember
Green Book is a film that is "inspired by the true story" of piano player Dr. Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali) and nightclub bouncer (and big eater) Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen). The film has been nominated for Best Picture at this year's Oscars and it's the film I most hope wins (I've seen most of them). Surprisingly, it is directed by Peter Farrelly, who usually directs with his brother Bobby and is known for comedies such as Dumb & Dumber and There's Something About Mary.
Green Book is a comedy-drama which manages to balance its two genres perfectly. Don Shirley was a classically trained piano virtuoso who was an African American. The film details Shirley's first tour in 1962 to the Deep South, as he tried to change people by using his music to try to bridge the race gap still very present in Jim Crow America. In order to make it through the tour, he employed Tony Lip, a bouncer from the Copacabana to drive for him. Early in the film, we see Tony in an unfavourable light when his own prejudices are demonstrated. This will be a journey of learning for Tony, but also for Shirley as he learns about how Tony lives and about himself along the way.
The film deals with a lot of dark subject matter but manages to remain light throughout, expertly using comedy to keep the story from becoming too heavy, but in no way underplaying the seriousness or hurtfulness of the world the two men have entered. The film manages to both make you laugh at the ridiculousness of the situations Shirley is faced with, yet also horrify and outrage you in equal amount. But this movie is a story of friendship and for every dark moment that makes you question humanity, there's another moment that brings back your faith in mankind again.
The performances of Mortensen and Ali are perfect and both have been nominated for Oscars. The story focuses slightly more on Tony, as the writers and director had more access to people from Tony's life to draw upon (something that Shirley's family have criticised the film for). Mortensen, who gained a lot of weight for the role (he looks unrecognisable from the same actor who starred in Lord of the Rings), gives a very believable portrayal of an Italian man from the 1960s who can hold his own in a bar fight, has struggled all his life, is extremely uncultured and not well educated. But through all that, lies a glimmer of a much stronger character and Mortensen brings out a lot of development along the way as Tony learns about the country he had never seen, how to write a letter to his wife and that maybe everything isn't just black and white.
Ali had a tougher time developing his character, as he had less material to work with (Mortensen spent many hours with Tony's real-life relatives). Whilst Shirley's family has disputed much of the film, including the concept that Shirley and Lip were really 'friends', others who knew Shirley have praised Ali's performance. If you remove historical accuracy from the equation (which doesn't need to be spot on in this circumstance), Ali gives a complex character a lot of great moments, from the many scenes in which Shirley is very guarded and aloof, to big dramatic moments of emotion. Ali comes across every bit believable as an expert musician, as well as a highly educated virtuoso, but who also has a troubled soul.
The film is extremely humorous, combining the odd couple humour of their pairing with 1960s nostalgia and a few musical jokes along the way. The soundtrack is also very enjoyable, with lots of 1950s and early 1960s music, coupled with the live performances of Shirley. The film also manages to be a great teaching tool for people as to how some parts of the world were. Some have criticised the film for not showing just how terrible the Jim Crow south was at the time, but I feel there was one scene in a bar that does give you a very good idea of just what they would have encountered.
At no stage did this film lag or lose my interest, across the entire 129 minute run time. It's an exceptional film and deserves to be more successful at the box office, so please get along a see it. We need more films like this one.