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Review: Green Book

November 16, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Taking its name from The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook for African American travellers that was published annually during the Jim Crow era, Green Book is a road trip film that strikes the perfect balance between being funny and deeply moving.

The film reinvigorates the mismatched buddy movie formula of classics like Planes, Trains and Automobiles to provide one of the most wholly satisfying moviegoing experiences of the year.

Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) is a working class Italian-American family man from the Bronx who lives with his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and their two sons, and works as a bouncer at the Copacabana night club in New York in order to provide for them.

Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is a renowned classical pianist of Jamaican descent who is embarking on a tour throughout the Deep South of 1962, a time of segregation and pronounced racial violence in America. When Tony is hired as Dr. Shirley’s driver for the tour in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with the plan being to get home in time for the holidays, the two men initially clash.

Dr. Shirley is a sophisticate with a regal air about him and a polished way of speaking who plays to sold out crowds of white society folk, while also facing shocking racism as a black man in a deeply segregated country, often at the same clubs where he is hired to play. Tony is a plain-talker who gets by on bullshit and isn’t opposed to using his fists to get out of a tight situation, working hard and navigating the streets his whole life. But as the tour goes on, and they realize the realities of each other’s worlds, the two men come to form an understanding and develop a deep bond between them.

Directed by Peter Farrelly, one half of the sibling duo that made Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, Green Book is an absolutely delightful road movie that uses humour to shine a light on the ugliness of racism and classism in America. Based on a true story, the film is buoyed along by an excellent script, which is filled with any number of small pleasures as our two protagonists banter back and forth, while also delivering many serious moments that movingly depict the realities of the time. This is the sort of film that will make you laugh before making you tear up, and it’s a careful balance that Farrelly navigates brilliantly.

Finally, Mortensen and Ali deliver a pair of great performances as the co-leads, bringing nuance and depth to each of their roles, and playing off each other in ways that are deeply satisfying to watch. This is a crowd pleaser through and through, evidenced by the fact that it took home the People’s Choice Award at TIFF, which is hardly a surprise considering that it got one of the best audience reactions I’ve seen at the festival since Silver Linings Playbook, with people clapping at many points throughout the film. Put simply, Green Book is one of the most enjoyable and powerful movies of the year.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

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