Road trip hits all of the right notes

Sunshine Coast Daily - Caloundra Weekly - - LIFE -

A ROAD movie with Viggo Mortensen at the wheel? Even at this early point, you know you can sit back and re­lax.

The ac­tor-painter-poet piled on 20kg to play Ital­ian-Amer­i­can bouncer Tony Val­le­longa in Green

Book, a smooth-run­ning com­edy-drama based on a true story and co-writ­ten by the lead char­ac­ter’s son.

Vul­gar, un­couth and too quick with his fists, Val­le­longa – bet­ter known to his mates and as­so­ciates as Tony Lip on ac­count of his bull­shit artistry – isn’t your av­er­age driver.

But he’s got the skill set African-Amer­i­can pi­anist Don Shirley (Ma­her­shala Ali) re­quires to sur­vive a 1962 tour of the Deep South, where bars, ho­tels and restau­rants are still seg­re­gated.

Why would a cel­e­brated clas­si­cal mu­si­cian at the height of his ca­reer vol­un­tar­ily sub­ject him­self to two months on the road as a se­cond-class citizen, play­ing for a bunch of wealthy racists who refuse

to share the same bath­room?

The an­swer is al­most as com­pli­cated as Shirley him­self – a wealthy, ed­u­cated gen­tle­man who speaks at least three lan­guages and lives above Carnegie Hall in an ex­trav­a­gantly dec­o­rated apart­ment com­plete with ele­phant tusks and a throne.

As they travel from New York City to Alabama, the un­e­d­u­cated Bronx bruiser and his gen­teel em­ployer have plenty of time to swap notes.

Shirley teaches Val­le­longa to enun­ci­ate, hold his tem­per, and com­pose love let­ters to his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini).

Val­le­longa in­tro­duces Shirley to Ken­tucky Fried Chicken, greasy fin­gers and the mu­sic of Chubby Checker, Lit­tle Richard and Aretha Franklin.

An un­likely friend­ship de­vel­ops as the two men over­come a se­ries of ob­sta­cles that mark fa­mil­iar stops on the road movie map.

There’s an ugly bar room brawl with white su­prem­a­cists, a se­ries of run-ins with racist po­lice of­fi­cers, and an overnight stint in a county jail (although not many mu­si­cians can call upon a favour from the At­tor­ney-Gen­eral to set mat­ters right).

Green Book, which takes its ti­tle from a hand­book for black mo­torists seek­ing a “va­ca­tion with­out ag­gra­va­tion” in the Deep South, might be as fa­mil­iarly struc­tured as a 12-bar blues song. But the ex­e­cu­tion is pretty much flaw­less, an­chored by a re­laxed chem­istry be­tween the two leads, both of whom relish the chance to show a dif­fer­ent side to their screen per­sonas.


Ma­her­shala Ali and Viggo Mortensen in a scene from the movie Green Book.

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