GREEN BOOK

Chang­ing lanes…

Total Film - - Contents -

Viggo Mortensen drives Ma­her­shala Ali crazy.

‘EX­PLOITS THE SIZE­ABLE CUL­TURAL GAP FOR LAUGHS AND DRAMA’

out 1 fe­bru­ary

Be­hind the jokes about lac­er­ated gen­i­talia and mutts on drugs, the sen­ti­men­tal streak in the Far­relly broth­ers’ come­dies al­ways ran wider than Jim Car­rey’s gurn­ing kisser. With that in mind, Peter Far­relly’s race-themed buddy movie looks like a more or­ganic gear-change than might oth­er­wise have been ex­pected. De­spite the ab­sence of chem­i­cally en­hanced pets, his tran­si­tion from fart-pow­ered an­ar­chy to heart-pow­ered up­lift proves a sat­is­fy­ingly smooth one, if you didn’t mind the sen­ti­men­tal­ity in the first place.

For Far­relly the el­der, it’s also a canny shift. The fam­ily brand of gross-out hu­mour peaked with There’s Some­thing About Mary (1998), be­fore en­joy­ing a fondly ex­tended stay of life up to and in­clud­ing Stuck On You (2003). But the pre­cip­i­tous de­cline be­gun by The Heart­break Kid (2007) gath­ered pace un­til Dumb And Dum­ber To (2014), where the broth­ers’ bid to re­cap­ture for­mer glo­ries seemed so forced that they couldn’t even score laughs with a cat named But­t­hole get­ting crazy on meth.

Far­relly’s re­sponse is to tap that reli­able re­source of re­spectable makeovers, the “in­spired by a true story” tale. Flip­ping the ra­tio of char­ac­ter to com­edy so that the gags take sec­ond po­si­tion to the peo­ple in­volved, Far­relly fo­cuses on the Jim Crow-era bond be­tween no-fil­ter Ital­ian-Amer­i­can bouncer Tony ‘Lip’ Val­le­longa (Viggo Mortensen) and ur­bane Ja­maican-Amer­i­can pian­ist Dr. Don Shirley (Ma­her­shala Ali). With the film’s ti­tle nod­ding to a travel guide for black peo­ple (“Va­ca­tion with­out ag­gra­va­tion”), the lead duo’s re­la­tion­ship be­gins when Tony takes a job as driver for the Doc’s 1962 con­cert tour of the Deep South – a trip fraught with po­ten­tial for trou­ble.

TWO FOR THE ROAD

If the set-up evokes Driv­ing Miss Daisy up­ended, both the cast and Far­relly’s pre­vi­ous form with road-driven odd cou­ples deepen and sharpen the ride. As Tony takes the wheel of a shiny Cadil­lac and Shirley sits up­right in the back, Far­relly (co-writ­ing with Brian Cur­rie and Nick Val­le­longa, Tony’s son) ex­ploits the size­able cul­tural gap be­tween them for laughs and drama. They bicker ini­tially, largely be­cause Tony never stops smok­ing, eat­ing and talk­ing. Then they be­gin to bond, aided by Tony’s gift of the gab and Shirley’s way with the writ­ten word. See, Tony can talk his way outta trou­ble but he don’t read so well, so the Doc helps him write let­ters to Mrs. Lip, the sto­ical Dolores (Linda Cardellini, un­der­used here).

If Far­relly’s main ref­er­ence points for his mis­matched buddy set-up are ’80s hits Rain Man and Planes, Trains And Au­to­mo­biles, Green Book like­wise ben­e­fits hugely from its note-per­fect lead pair­ing. Af­ter a ca­reer rang­ing from the ruggedly po­etic Aragorn to his vi­o­lent, soul­ful, orally fix­ated leads for David Cro­nen­berg (see A Dan­ger­ous Method’s Sig­mund Freud), Mortensen shows us some­thing fresh here, not least the ex­tra weight on his gut.

When Tony bins two glasses in his house af­ter black work­ers have used them, he seems merely to be an ir­re­deemable crea­ture of lit­tle sen­si­tiv­ity and vast ap­petites – no pass­ing pizza is safe in his vicin­ity. But, as Dr. Shirley’s re­cur­rent en­coun­ters with racism open Tony’s eyes wider than his ever-hun­gry gob, Mortensen and Far­relly find ways to soften him per­sua­sively.

Mean­while, Ali plays the straight man to Mortensen’s wild card with con­trolled as­sur­ance. Slowly un­peel­ing hints of the Doc’s anger and iso­la­tion, he up­holds his dig­nity as a con­trast­ing mir­ror to racist Amer­ica’s lack of such. Sadly, Far­relly brushes over his sex­u­al­ity, but the chem­istry be­tween the leads sings with such ease that you rarely no­tice as Tony and Don change be­fore your eyes.

MAN’S HU­MAN­ITY TO MAN

But it’s on the oc­ca­sions when you do no­tice that Far­relly makes his big­gest stum­bles. When Tony tells the Doc about Lit­tle Richard and fried chicken, you gag on the im­pli­ca­tion: is Tony pre­sum­ing to lec­ture Don about black cul­ture? Later, a road­side sur­prise of­fers a cockle-warm­ing twist too far, re­flected in a sound­track that of­ten labours to pluck our emo­tional re­sponses like vi­olins.

The ame­lio­rat­ing fac­tors are Far­relly’s easy way with char­ac­ter and broad sense of hu­man­ism. Awards­bait or not, Green Book plays as a deftly dis­arm­ing film about friend­ship and unity in di­vi­sive times: cal­cu­lated, per­haps, but cal­cu­lated from a kind, sin­cere place. It opens with some­one say­ing, “Thank you all for com­ing to see us.” It ends with an­other, more spoiler-y “thank you”. In be­tween, as Far­relly’s scrupu­lously well­man­nered ap­peal to peo­ple’s bet­ter na­tures gets into its im­pec­ca­bly cast groove, the heart­warm­ing plea­sure is all ours. Kevin Har­ley

the Ver­diCt

When the sen­ti­ment threat­ens to turn gloopy, Ali and Mortensen’s ter­rific leads steer Far­relly back on-track.

“Sorry pal, i don’t go south of the ma­son-Dixon line af­ter mid­night…”

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