We’ve seen it before. An Italian-American bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) in New York becomes the driver for a famous black pianist (Mahershala Ali) who is touring the South. As their journey through America begins their friendship grows and blah, blah, blah. Having seen the trailers and knowing the general plot going in, I thought I knew exactly what to expect, and in some respects I was correct. Green Book, however, blew any and all expectations out of the water.
This is easily one of the most heartwarming and charming films of the year so far. Peter Farrelly, the writer/director, typically does not take on films with even remotely serious subject matters. He was one of the people who did Dumb and Dumber, for Pete’s sake. However, he writes this movie better than any seasoned dramatic screenwriter could have possibly done. Farrelly injects his sense of humor into the script, and makes this drama one of the funniest movies of the season.
The screenplay may be excellent, but that is not what should be getting the Oscar buzz. Viggo Mortensen delivers a typically great performance as Tony Lip, the lower-middle class Italian whose favorite hobby is eating as much as humanly possible. The character is straight out of The Sopranos, which fits perfectly since the real-life Tony Lip had a minor role in the iconic television show, as well as iconic films like Goodfellas and The Godfather. Lip was a real-life Tony Soprano, just without the murder and mob killings. Mortensen has every single mannerism about Lip down, from the way he talks to all of the small gestures he makes. Lip was a heavyset man who loved food, so naturally Mortensen gained upwards of forty pounds for the role. Ever since The Lord of the Rings Mortensen has been hitting home run after home run, and his role in Green Book is no exception.
The glue that holds this film together is the chemistry between Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali as real-life piano player Don Shirley. Mortensen gives a more comedic performance, while Ali brings the emotion. His character is a very isolated man who has no family or friends to rely on despite his many riches. He lives all alone in a kingly apartment directly above Carnegie Hall, and he feels as though he doesn’t belong in his own African-American culture. Shirley was truly a genius piano player, and Ali absolutely nails every facet of his personality. Shirley’s personality contrasted with Lip’s is why Green Book works wonders. I could’ve watched Ali and Mortensen joke around with each other for far longer than the two hours and ten minutes that this film covers.
One of the biggest responsibilities of any biopic is representing its characters and events with relative accuracy. A major reason as to why I despise films like Bohemian Rhapsody is because all of the events were fabricated for Hollywood purposes and the subject of the biopic was not represented accurately at all. Green Book, however, gets almost everything about this unique story correct. Having researched the actual story after watching the film, it is staggering how much the writers got correct. After all, Tony Lip’s son, Nick Vallelonga, co-wrote the movie based off of stories his father told him while growing up. It is easy to see how much effort all of the filmmakers put into making the film as accurate as possible, which is exactly how every biopic should be helmed.
The fact that this film can be as true to real life as it is and still be so entertaining is a lesson to all other filmmakers who simply fabricate events and treat them as if they were real. The only slight flaw I have with Green Book is that yes, it is pretty predictable. The movie handles the plot with such expertise that it doesn’t matter most of the time, but from the beginning of the story arc it isn’t terribly difficult to see what direction the film is taking us. However, when a movie is this entertaining, whether or not the plot is predictable gets shoved into the background. Green Book is getting plenty of Oscar buzz, and it is easy to see why. Very few films this year put viewers in as good of spirits as this one does in the last few minutes. This film proves that you don’t need explosions or a big budget in order to have fun at the movie theater this holiday season. Green Book should be shown to families and schools everywhere, as it makes a better case against racism than most films, while also giving a fun and heartwarming experience that the whole family should be able to enjoy.
by Joel Alexander–Entertainment Editor