A possible Oscar contender, “Green Book” is a heart-warming film about the power of friendship and putting racism in its place.
Pretty much everything in the movie is made to be enjoyable, from the likable characters down to the Christmas ending. “Green Book” takes on some pretty serious subject matter, but it does so in a simple, easy-to-watch way. It’s perfect, low key schmaltz.
Inspired by a true story, “Green Book” is about posh, elitist pianist Dr. Don Shirley going on a concert tour in the Deep South in the 1960s, for which he hires the street-wise, rough-and-tumble Bronx native Tony “Lip” as his driver and bodyguard. These two men from opposite ends of society bond and better one another over the course of the film, while tackling Southern racism in one episode after another.
The thuggish Tony “Lip” teaches the elitist how to open up and be a man of the people, while the elitist Dr. Shirley sands off the thug’s rougher edges and helps make him a better person.
“Green Book” is a straight forward film that delivers exactly what you expect it to, and it does that very well. The growing friendship between Dr. Shirley and Tony is delightful, with both men helping the other in some way. They start off as equals and end the film as even better equals.
Viggo Mortensen acquires the paunch and the Bronx accent to play Tony to a T, with an affable charm and a silver tongue, able to talk his way through anything. Mahershala Ali fully embodies the eccentric Dr. Shirley, a lonely man who
purposefully went on tour in the Jim Crow South because he hoped courage and dignity could help change some minds.
The dialogue and humor between the two men, and their various adventures throughout the film, are always entertaining. It helps that they just keep scoring easy win after easy win.
“Green Book” is not a sharp or complex examination of racism. The film is about Tony and Dr. Shirley contending with racism at every turn, but it always comes off in the easiest caricatures possible — from the racist cop to the racist country club manager to the racist rich guy who has no problem hiring Dr. Shirley for a private concert at his home, but doesn’t hesitate to point the world-famous pianist to the “coloreds” outhouse when Dr. Shirley has to relieve himself.
The film doesn’t shy away from portraying the ugliness of racism, and it’s always a hoot when Dr. Shirley and Tony put the racists in their place, but the film isn’t about exploring racism. It’s about the friendship of the two men, and in that way, it feels safer than a sharper, darker film might be about the same subject matter.
But in a movie as feel good and heart-warming as “Green Book”, you don’t need sharpness and darkness. You can get by with a good traveling companion and an unflappable righteous dignity.