The moving and good-natured “Green Book,” with an incredible cast and a marvelous true story, is yet another wonderful movie in a year crowded with stellar films.
It’s a buddy film. It’s also a road-trip movie. And, even more important than the other two, it’s a story of the racially charged south during the early 1960s.
I was surprised to learn that this was directed and co-written by Peter Farrelly, who with his brother Bobby is known as the Farrelly Brothers film-making team that’s known for “There’s Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber.”
This is much more subdued and tenderhearted than the duo’s works, with humor that’s part of the character development rather than a series of joke setups or shock humor.
Viggo Mortensen is Tony, a bouncer at the New York Copacabana in the early 1960s. When the club closes for renovation, he needs to find a job to support his wife and kids.
He hears about a “Dr. Shirley” who wants to hire a driver. But this isn’t the kind of doctor that Tony expects to meet when he arrives for the job interview.
Don Shirley is a sophisticated musician, a genteel and respected performer who also happens to be African-American. Shirley (Mahershala Ali, who earned an Oscar for his performance in “Moonlight”) is about to embark on a concert tour that will take him through the Deep South, and he needs a driver who can help him manage whatever and whomever he encounters along the way.
Tony is skeptical, but when Dr. Shirley agrees to meet his price, he takes off. The two use a “Green Book,” a publication to help African-Americans find places to dine and stay, during their travel.
At first, the two men don’t much care for each other. Tony is too coarse for the likes of Dr. Shirley. Tony doesn’t understand exactly how talented Dr. Shirley is until he hears him play. “He’s like Liberace, only better,” Tony writes to his wife, Dolores (Linda Cardinelli.)
Tony discovers that Dr. Shirley isn’t as happy as Tony imagined, and Dr. Shirley finds out that Tony has more strengths than merely his fists.
Nick Vallelonga, Tony’s son, helped write the script, which may be why this film feels so earnest.
The scenes in which the pair face bigotry and violence are cringe-worthy, but not as intense as they would have been portrayed in an “R”-rated film.
Mortensen, as usual, is terrific as the coarse Bronx resident who uses his gift of gab to extricate himself from a lot of situations. Ali is likewise wonderful as the sophisticated musician who drinks alone.
This is a crowd-pleaser that’s perfectly timed for holiday viewing.