You hear the name Peter Farrelly and immediately think about those raunchy comedies back in the olden days – Dumb & Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, Me, Myself and Irene etc. Brilliant writer-director in the previous century, but now? Not so much. It wasn’t that long ago when he won the Raspberry (Worst Director for Movie 43, a terrible excuse of film reel). Maybe what he needed to do is steer out of his comfort zone. Comedy directors taking on serious movies and hitting it out of the park is nothing new. It worked for Jordan Peele, John Krasinski, and Adam McKay. Sort-of applies here as well.
Green Book, a biographical comedy-drama depicts the unlikely friendship that develops between Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, an Italian-American New York city bouncer and Don Shirley, a brilliant African-American pianist, during an eight-week tour through the southern states of USA. Hired to serve as Shirley’s bodyguard and driver, Frank views the racial injustice his talented boss encounters first-hand during in 1960s America. If you think you know what to expect, you’d be right. But it doesn’t even matter.
A road trip between these two unlikely personalities is meant to be eventful. Mortensen’s portrayal of “Tony Lip“, an almost-caricature Italian with a large appetite and an accent so thick it would put DeNiro’s gangster depictions to shame, is balanced. It’s not overdone, the man’s not perfect, but its part of the charm. Ali’s Don Shirley is your focused and composed professional, trying to keep it all together but breaking apart at every instance of abuse coming his way. The plotline takes us through various moments in the journey where either character faces harassment because of their identity. A big part of what works about Green Book is what these two performances bring to the table. The laughs, the tears, and the occasional moment-of-truth monologues – that’s when you appreciate what you’re watching. The dialogue, the direction, the entire screenplay has both subtle and not-so-subtle messages. It’s a heartwarming road-trip fiction you feel like you’ve seen a million times before. You won’t mind watching it a million times more.
Unfortunately, this sense of familiarity also has a counteractive effect on the whole premise. It’s written, shot and edited beautifully. But it’s got simple sequences with clear-cut objectives. You react to it the way you do because it tells you to. It doesn’t get under your skin or make you ponder about it deeply afterwards to warrant a fundamental shift in your psyche. You could enjoy the movie for what it is – a heartwarming tale of friendship between two unlikely people. For what its worth, Green Book is one of those constant reminders of how inhumane policies do not make the world a better place for anyone.