One half of the Farrelly brothers (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, and many less memorable films since) breaks off to do his own thing in the deceivingly on-brand Green Book.
Peter Farrelly cowrote and directs this film based on a true story about Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a working class Italian who takes a job as a driver/ bodyguard for Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a wealthy, classically trained black pianist embarking on an eight week tour through the segregated South in 1962. While this ain’t Kingpin, Farrelly still plays on the odd couple dynamic for every laugh he can get without disrespecting the serious issues too much. Like his raunchier comedies, the road trip drives the story in what essentially becomes a bromance with a very feel good, studio-safe ending.
In an early scene, Tony’s own prejudices are shown when he throws out a couple glasses that he saw his wife give to some black repair men in their apartment. He doesn’t seem to have a problem taking the job for Don, work is work. Tony’s good at what he does, and he immediately becomes Don’s advocate as they encounter the expected racism, but it’s unclear when his own heart is changed. Both being from New York, yet with completely different upbringings, it’s interesting to see the already mismatched couple navigate the unfamiliar South. Their inevitable encounters with bigotry eventually begin to feel a little redundant, but perhaps that’s the point.
Green Book is certainly a crowd pleaser. Mortensen and Ali are both playing departures from characters we’ve come to know them for, and develop a highly watchable rapport. It will probably feel too safe for many viewers, playing out a little like an introduction to racism, ending with warm and fuzzy Christmas feelings. Still, it’s a nice story and something that you can show to children who might not be familiar with how things were only 50 years ago, but aren’t yet ready to see the full extent of people’s capacity for hatred.